Rabbit Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Rabbits

Rabbit are not rodents, but Lagomorphs or members of the order Lagomorpha. They are found throughout the world and play a very important role in every ecosystem they are a part of. Are they proud of this accomplishment? Probably not. They are a keystone prey for millions of predators. In fact, knowing this little fact helps one appreciate the rabbit’s characteristic features a bit more. From their long ears, powerful hopping legs, short tail, and acute senses, to their admirable ability to reproduce…well… like rabbits, they are adapted to avoid predators and make enough new rabbits to have a few survive to continue the process.

Some Interesting Facts:

  • Because good rabbit food is usually in an open, vulnerable location, they ingest it quickly, and rush it through the digestive process. When they return to their den and defecate green pellets; they will then re-ingest them in order to absorb missed nutrients. Yes, that means they eat their own poop.
  • It is not unheard of for 2 rabbits to produce 84 offspring in one year. 9 will make it to their third year.
  • Rabbits are extremely fast for their size. The Snowshoe Hare can reach speeds of 30 mph.
  • Rabbits have six incisors, or front teeth, four on the top and two on the bottom. The second set of upper incisors, called peg teeth, is hidden right behind the set that can be easily seen when looking in the mouth. These teeth are used primarily for grabbing food and cutting it.

Rabbit Books and Field Guides

Humane Capture / Control for Rabbits

New York State Rabbit Species Identification Guide

Eastern CottontailEastern CottontailFind more images

Eastern Cottontail
(Sylvilagus floridanus)

AKA: Rabbit

Identifying characteristics: The most common rabbit in the US, cottontails are covered with a grayish-brown coat (with brown underfur and gray and black guard hairs). The backs of their necks are usually rust colored. The under parts are white, including the bottom of its short tail, which appears fluffy, like cotton. Molting occurs twice a year. Spring coats appear more brown, winter coats are more gray. Their ears are erect and may be as long as the head or more. About half of specimens have a white blotch of fur on their forehead.

Size: From 15 to 19 inches in length and weighing from 2-3.5 pounds.

Habitat: Edge environments where grassland meets wooded areas (small or large). Near crops or gardens. Nests are usually hollows under logs or brush, lined with grasses or leaves.

Food: Herbivore. Grasses, green plants and vegetables in the summer. Wooded plants, bark in winter.

Vocalization: Grunts, cries, squeals.

Predators: Humans, birds of prey, weasels, foxes, coyotes, big cats, snakes.

Reproduction: Litter size average 5 with an average of 4 litters a year. Young will stay with their mothers for 4-5 weeks. Mating season is from winter through the end of summer. Males may compete fiercely for mates and once found will perform intricate courtship dances.

Other Info.: Solitary and primarily nocturnal (though most active near dawn and dusk). They often stand on their hind legs to look out for predators. To escape danger, rabbits will use a variety of tactics. At first they may simply freeze. They may also hop away in a rapid, zigzagging fashion. When cornered they may grunt and bite. Despite their adaptations, they will rarely live more than 3 years.

Distribution

Complete distribution

Found all over the state and neighboring states.

Status: common.

Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

Look for clusters of 4 tracks. The fore prints will be about 1 inch round with 4 toes. The oblong hind prints will be twice as long, usually lined up, and positioned just past the fore prints. The stride depends on speed. Look also for tunnels in snow or narrow trails in grass.

New England CottontailNew England CottontailFind more images

New England Cottontail
(Sylvilagus transitionalis)

Identifying characteristics: Without taking measurements, you may not be able to differentiate the New England variety from the Eastern Cottontail. Their physical appearance is similar, though the New England variety has shorter ears and a smaller body. In most specimens, there are black spots present in-between the ears and a black lining of the fore edge of the ears. Eastern may also have these characteristics, but most specimens don’t. New England Cottontails will certainly lack the white spot on the forehead that roughly half of Easterns have. Proper identification requires examining the skull.

Size: From 14 to 18 inches in length and weighing from 2-3.5 pounds.

Habitat: Edge environments where grassland meets early succession forests. Dense forest is not preferred. Nests are usually abandoned woodchuck burrows or hollows under logs or brush, lined with grasses or leaves.

Food: Herbivore. Grasses, green plants and vegetables in the summer. Wooded plants, bark in winter.

Vocalization: Grunts, cries, squeals.

Predators: Humans, birds of prey, weaselsfoxescoyotesbig catssnakes.

Reproduction: Litter size average 5 with an average of 3-4 litters a year. Young will stay with their mothers for 3-5 weeks. Mating season is from winter through the end of summer. Males may compete fairly for mates and once found will perform intricate courtship dances.

Other Info.: Solitary and primarily nocturnal (though most active near dawn and dusk). They are very similar to Eastern Cottontails in behavior, but inhabit succession forests (at the time when a field begins to mature into a woodland). Many factors are contributing to their demise. For starters… a succesion forest will eventually mature, destroying their habitat. Beaver activity and other disturbances are thought to help create the forest conditions ideal for this species, but beaver activity is a sliver of what it once was. Development and food competition from whitetail deer are also strong factors.



Distribution

Distribution

A few populations exist in the eastern most counties.

Status: Special Concern in NY

Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

Look for clusters of 4 tracks. The fore prints will be about 1 inch round with 4 toes. The oblong hind prints will be twice as long, usually lined up, and positioned just past the fore prints. The stride depends on speed. Look also for tunnels in snow or narrow trails in grass.

Snowshoe HareSnowshoe HareFind more images

Snowshoe Hare
(Lepus americanus)

AKA: Varying hare; white rabbit

Identifying characteristics: Summer coats are a grizzled rusty-brownish-gray with a black stripe running down the back and white underparts. In winter they may turn mostly white. Their black-tipped ears are not as long as the head. The furry hind feet are much larger than with other rabbits. Some specimens in the Adirondack region are completely black all year round.

Size: Generally larger than the similar Cottontail. From 16-20 inches in length and weighing an average of 3 pounds. Males slightly larger than females.

Habitat: Coniferous forests in varying elevations as well as deciduous forests and fields with plenty of undergrowth for food and protection. They nest in hollows under debris or within abandoned dens.

Food: Herbivore. Grasses, green plants and vegetables in the summer. Wooded plants, bark and evergreens in winter.

Vocalization: Grunts, cries, squeals. They will also repeatedly thump their feet on the ground.

Predators: Humans, birds of prey, weaselsfoxescoyotesbig cats.

Reproduction: Litter size average 3 with roughly 3 litters a year. Young will stay with their mothers for about a month. Mating season is March through August. The youth are born with fur and can run within hours.

Other Info.: Solitary and primarily nocturnal (though most active near dawn and dusk). Their large feet allow them to walk more easily on top of thick snow. They also enable them to swim quite well if they need to cross a stream or evade a predator. In summer, it will often bathe in dust to help control parasites.



Distribution

Complete distribution

Found all over the state and neighboring states.

Status: common.

Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

Look for clusters of 4 tracks. The fore prints will be about 1 inch round with 4 toes. The oblong hind prints will be twice as long, usually lined up, and positioned just past the fore prints. The stride depends on speed. Look also for tunnels in snow or narrow trails in grass.

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