Special Help for New England Cottontails

National Estuarine Research Reserve Project

Wells Reserve protects 2,250 acres where scientists study natural communities and monitor wildlife in grasslands, thickets, forests, and other habitats.

Several areas are managed intensively to maintain 70 acres of linked young forest and shrubland. Conservationists plant native shrubs, shear overmature shrubs so they grow back more densely, and remove non-native invasive shrubs such as barberry, bittersweet, and honeysuckle.

(A brochure, Wildlife Needs Shrubland: Conserving Habitat in Maine, was co-authored by conservationists at Wells Reserve and the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.)

White-throated sparrow in habitat
Tom Berriman
White-throated sparrows are one of many kinds of wildlife that use thicket habitats created and maintained at Wells Reserve.

One animal benefiting from this work is the New England cottontail, the only rabbit native to Maine, considered State Endangered and with a statewide population estimated at fewer than 300. Since 2017, biologists have established a population on Wells Reserve by releasing more than 60 New England cottontails produced through a zoo-based breeding program.

Strong Survival Rates

The rabbits’ survival rates have been good, and they are breeding on the reserve. Most individuals identified through recent surveys have been wild-born. Today, Wells Reserve has one of the largest cottontail populations in Maine.

Among the many young forest birds that share habitat with the rabbits are eastern kingbird, chestnut-sided warbler, American redstart, gray catbird, white-throated sparrow, and brown thrasher.

How to Visit

Seven miles of trails wind through different habitats. Wells Reserve is open daily from 7 a.m to sunset. An admission fee or membership lets visitors use the parking area, visitor center, trails, beach, and other public spaces and facilities.