New England Cottontail
New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis)
General: Slightly smaller than the more-abundant Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), the New England cottontail weighs 2.2 to 3 pounds and is 15 to 17 inches long. New England cottontails live in scattered populations east of the Hudson River in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. They eat grasses and other succulent plants in summer and woody vegetation in winter. They inhabit old fields growing up with shrubs, shrub swamps, logged areas, and coastal shrublands.
Status: Because of habitat loss caused by development and the maturing of forests, the range of the New England cottontail has shrunk by more than 80 percent since the 1960s, and the rabbit population has plummeted accordingly. The species also must compete for food and habitat with the Eastern cottontail, introduced into the region in the 20th century. Today the New England cottontail is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need throughout New England, and Maine and New Hampshire have placed it on their endangered species lists. In 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the New England cottontail as a candidate for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Conservation partners have launched a major effort to keep this native rabbit from going extinct.
How to Help New England Cottontails: These rabbits need large, interlinking tracts of young forest or shrub thickets. They are twice as likely to be killed by predators when they occupy patches 5 acres or smaller, compared to ones 12 acres or larger. Habitat blocks of at least 25 acres (and ideally much larger) are needed for local populations to survive. Good ways to create and enhance habitat include clearcut logging, controlled burning, building brushpiles, and planting native shrubs.
Click on the map at left to see a larger image.
Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.
To learn more, visit www.newenglandcottontail.org. For more detailed information, including references to scientific papers, see Under Cover: Wildlife of Shrublands and Young Forest, available as a free download. This 88-page full-color publication can also be purchased from the Wildlife Management Institute.
Download Best Management Practices (PDF) for making New England cottontail habitat.