About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Do bunny rabbits hibernate?

Rabbits do not hibernate in the winter but they are crepuscular, meaning you’re probably not seeing them because they're most active at dusk and dawn. In the winter, rabbits must shift from tall grasses and other herbaceous foods to woody foods such as raspberry twigs, stems of wild rose and the bark of sumac. Highbush cranberry, silky and gray dogwood, thorneapple, and other planted shrubs will also supplement their winter diet.

Most of the bunnies you see in Michigan are the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). They have speckled brown-gray fur, big eyes, and a tail that is puffy white on the underside. Many people mistakenly believe that wild rabbits and domesticated pet rabbits are the same species, but the domesticated rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) belongs to another genus and is only distantly related.

Domestic rabbits are descended from European wild rabbits and not North American Eastern cottontails. Even if you can’t tell them apart, they know the difference. If a cottontail meets a domestic rabbit, they would probably not even recognize him as a rabbit. Cottontails and domestic (or European) rabbits are genetically isolated and cannot interbreed. Cottontails only live in North and South America and there are 13 currently recognized species, including our eastern cottontail.

Famous for their breeding abilities, cottontails breed from February through September in Michigan. Gestation is about 28 days. Three to four litters of four or five babies are born each year. Young are born helpless in a shallow depression lined with grass and mother's fur, but they grow rapidly and are weaned when less than half the size of the adult.

Please note, many baby cottontails appear to be abandoned, but in fact their mother is nearby. The mother rabbit only visits the nest once or twice a day, and stays well away the rest of the time so it won't attract predators.

Rabbits may live up to two years in the wild, but where predators are numerous they seldom survive more than one year. Hawks and owls are some avian predators, and foxes, raccoons, skunks, and opossums are some mammals that prey on rabbits.

If you think you’ve found an abandoned baby, call a licensed rehabilitator. For a complete list of Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/   

Source: Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. ManagingMichiganWildlife: A Landowners Guide.  Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI. 297pp.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this info. Been leaving out food this winter for a family of wild rabbits that liv nearby & frequent our backyard. Wanted to make sure they were at least likely to be the ones getting the food. We also have local raccoons; don't mind them getting some, but prefer the bunnies get it. (Been leaving bits of "green leafies": lettuce & kale, also carrots, apple pealing; not sure what all they eat).

Unknown said...

We have a domesticated rabbit in a huge cage in our backyard and my daughter was just so sure she would hibernate: ) so I had to check. Thanks for the info.