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Cute Alert: Here Comes Peter (New England) Cottontail!

New England Cottontail

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This spring, visit Mashpee River Reservation yourself, or for more on the New England cottontail visit www.newenglandcottontail.org.

If you’ve been wondering what’s happening with the New England cottontail rabbit, wonder no more: The Trustees of Reservations have teamed up with two heavy hitters – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who’ve generously offered technical and financial assistance – to improve habitat for the New England cottontail at Mashpee River Reservation.

Often confused with the Eastern cottontail (an introduced, non-native species), the New England cottontail is the only rabbit native to the Northeast. Once common – and widespread – across New England and New York (only east of the Hudson River, so very little of the state), the cottontail’s range has decreased by a disheartening 86% over the past 50 years, mainly due to habitat loss. It’s now restricted to small, isolated populations in parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southeastern New York. Here in Massachusetts, the cottontail is mostly limited to Cape Cod.

In 2006, the New England cottontail was identified as a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection. Without a major conservation effort, this species faces possible extinction. In response, regional initiatives have been launched – with the aid of new funding sources – to help reverse the decline of the New England cottontail by increasing the amount of early successional habitat (young forests) across their range.   

This Mashpee project will improve habitat on 50 acres by reducing tree cover to encourage the dense regeneration of shrubs, saplings, and vines: the kind of cozy environment preferred by cottontails. Increasing the growth of understory vegetation will create a safe environment where the rabbits can find food, rear their young, and escape predators. Forest thinning equipment has been onsite since February and the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of March but may take a bit longer, depending on weather conditions.

In addition to enhancing habitat for New England cottontails, this work at Mashpee River Reservation will benefit a number of other species including: black racer, hognose snake, box turtle, ruffed grouse, bobwhite, prairie warbler, Eastern towhee, woodcock, field sparrow, brown thrasher, blue-winged warbler, gray catbird, oak hairstreak, and many native pollinators.

Russ Hopping, Ecology Program Manager at The Trustees, says "This project is exciting because it will benefit a true New England native in need of help, as well as many other species that are in decline. When the project is completed, it will also allow trail access to an area that wasn't open to the public in the past. Visitors will be able to watch the habitat respond to our management, and perhaps even get a glimpse of the cottontails in their new habitat."

Published March 2013


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Submitted by stranger ranger on: March 4, 2016
whats up you crazy rabbit ?



Submitted by terry on: January 22, 2014
how WONDERFUL!!!



Submitted by FC on: April 29, 2013
Great habitat project. Good to hear you are managing the forest due to the lack of natural disturbances in the area with fire suppression and urbanization. What happened with all the wood that got cleared--chipped for mulch or biomass?



Submitted by Robin on: March 17, 2013
Will they be planting any native grasses or flowers, as well? In my yard, at least, any newly opened space immediately gets filled by invasives.



Submitted by Beppo on: March 16, 2013
How can you tell the difference between the Eastern cotton tail and the New England cottontail?



Submitted by Stacey on: March 16, 2013
Awesome to see more focus on New England cottontail habitat development! Good job!



Submitted by Dorie Stolley on: March 16, 2013
Way to go! I am very happy to hear about this work and how you are doing it with conservation partners.



Submitted by electa on: March 15, 2013
Sounds like a "twofer" (or "threefer") to me! hoooray NE cottontails! hooray trail access to Mashpee River landscape!