By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Bedford is experiencing an infestation of Eastern Cottontails, the likes of which even many long-time residents have never seen. Rabbits in the center of town lurk under shrubs and behind rocks and trees on the Town Common. Rabbits on the outskirts of town lope casually across walking trails and busy streets. Everywhere you look, there they are: rabbits, rabbits, and more rabbits.
West Bedford resident Connie Pespisa says that her family’s cat has caught more than a few baby rabbits lately but it took a while for the cat to become accustomed to the smell of the unfamiliar creatures before she began pursuing them in earnest. “She chased one but it got away and it took her a while to figure out what the scent was,” said Pespisa. “But then yesterday, she caught two in just a few hours.”
Selectman Caroline Fedele is a runner who says that the scenes from her early morning jog have undergone changes in the past few months. “At 5:30 am, there seems to be more baby bunnies out than cars. They are everywhere,” Fedele reported.
A South Road resident commented how tame the rabbits in her yard are, saying she found one on her doorstep recently that was in no hurry to move when she returned home one morning. “When I’m at home, I think it lives under my car,” she said.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society says that Eastern Cottontails are among the most common of mammals and that they live and breed in a variety of environments, including weedy city lots and suburban yards. Rabbits can give birth as many as three times in one season, producing between five and eight offspring per litter. Their life expectancy is two years at most but about half of the newborn “kittens” die within a month.
Rabbits are generally solitary and silent, only interacting to breed and only noisy when attacked. Their natural predators include foxes, weasels, raccoons, minks, snakes, crows, several common species of hawks, and owls that, the Mass Audubon website says, rely in part or entirely on the cottontail for sustenance.
As for its own food, rabbits eat a variety of vegetation, often—frustratingly— the contents of carefully tended backyard vegetable and flower gardens. Their favorites are lettuce, beans, and beets, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries but they also eat grass, bark, twigs, and buds, tender young clover shoots, dandelions, and tulips.
If rabbits become a particular nuisance before their natural predators rise to the challenge of this infestation, the Mass Audubon website has recommendations— as well as cautionary information– for how to deal with cottontails.
Visit: https://www.massaudubon.org/Nature_Connection/wildlife/index.php?id=70 for more information or call Mass Audubon’s Wildlife Information Line at 781-259-2150.