Eastern Cottontails

Cottontails

Eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) vary from gray to brown and have large ears and hind feet and short white tails. They live in residential lawns and other grassy areas near woods or shrubs that provide cover. 

Cottontails are herbivores that eat grasses, clovers and dandelions in summer and bark, buds and twigs in winter. They are also “coprophagous,” which means they eat their own droppings. To avoid predators, a cottontail may eat quickly then move to a protected location. There, it excretes soft fecal pellets, which it then eats. This allows its body to better digest any nutrients.

Females can have up to eight litters during warm-weather months with four or five young per litter. They dig shallow, fur-lined trenches or holes in the ground as nests, which are often out in the open.

Gestation is about 28 days, so during peak breeding season, females will be both pregnant and nursing. Mothers only feed their young once or twice within a 24-hour period, usually at night. 

Young are on their own at 21 days, when they’re about 4 to 5 inches long and fully furred with open eyes and upright ears. At this size, they still look like babies, but they are independent.

The majority of cottontails do not survive their first season, but they do provide an irreplaceable source of food for owls, hawks, foxes, coyotes and other important predators.