I had a visit from Cammie Donaldson, the Executive Director of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN) this past week. It’s an exciting time for them as the first national all Native Plant Trade Show is scheduled to take place right here in my very own county. That event will occur starting on April 4, 2013 at Osceola Heritage Park. In conjunction with that, four chapters of The Florida Native Plant Society (my chapter included) will produce an all native plant sale at the same location for two days starting April 5th.
As we walked my property I told Cammie we needed to quietly walk the one area as one of my bunny friends hangs out under a thicket of wax myrtles and groundsel trees. Bunny was nowhere to be found on this day. I remarked that I was hopeful to see baby rabbits this year as the dogs are confined to the front half acre so the bunnies had plenty of room in the back section to rear their young peacefully.
Well, wildlife being wildlife, you can’t always expect them to use good judgment in choosing a nesting location. The next day I was out and about with the woofs in their own area and I heard horrible crying. There, in the front next to a thistle was Tanner, the English setter, with his snout under the brush. I yelled, but a second too late as he pulled his prize out. He dropped it and dove back in but when I called him off he backed off, grabbed the initial prize and ran to the front fence where he dropped it at my command. Unfortunately too late for this baby Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus).
I gathered both dogs and put them in the house and headed back to see if other bunnies were okay. In the initial encounter I did see a second that Tanner had “nosed” but didn’t seem to harm. I grabbed a box, lined it with grasses and the like and I found him snuggled in some brush, but out of the nest. My initial reaction was to put him in the box and move him, but I held back thinking “how would mom find him?”
I reached in to check him(her?) for damage and it squealed loudly. Anyone who thinks bunnies are quiet would be stunned at just how loud this little tyke was. Needless to say, momma came a-running. The baby seemed fine and I didn’t see signs of any more siblings so I did this quick photo shoot, covered the baby back up with the loose grasses and headed in to see just how many bunnies are in a brood.
For the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit it can be 1-9. The babies are born hairless so I’m quite amazed that the dog didn’t find them sooner. It seems that in order to protect the babies from predators mom spends little time at the nest, visiting only in order to nurse the babies twice a day. The rest of the time she stays in a different location so as not to draw attention to the nest. I guess it works since I found an empty nest in the same area last year. That year they successfully outsmarted the scent hound.
Rabbits can breed ummm, well, like rabbits…PROFUSELY… often causing conflict with humans in the edible garden.
I struggled with what to do, but I decided that this bunny seems close to hopping off on its own given when I reached for it he hopped and quickly dug further under the brush. (S)He seems very strong. Fully furred and eyes open, I opted to cover the area with more brush and trimmed back some groundsels to give me materials. I made a large pile of branches and placed them loosely covering the entire area. The dog will just have to be under constant surveillance for the near future. A pain for me, but I can’t deliberately ignore the situation. I’ll also make him wear his Elizabethan collar that will further cramp his style. This proved to be successful this morning as he walked close by the area, but my admonition sent him quickly to a different part of the yard and he didn’t venture back there.
Domestic dogs are in the top five on the list of rabbit predators. Hawks, owls, snakes, raccoons and even cars are on there too. I have less issue with the wildlife given that they need to eat whereas the dang dog gets fed very well as evidenced by the dog food budget for his premium eats.
I walked to the back yard with the tiny critter that didn’t make it, feeling bad, shovel in hand. It was a quiet time and I choose a spot, dug the hole and placed him in his final resting place. I took two pieces of branch I found handy and slashed them together using some grapevine to fashion a cross. Not the fanciest, but my intentions are good and it made me feel better.
It’s always sad when tragedy occurs in the garden, but it is part of the life cycle and I have to be accepting and realize that I never would have seen the baby had the dog not caused havoc. I also have decided that once the bunny leaves the area that I will clear up that section and keep it trimmed down to ground level.
Tragedy and joy with lessons learned. Hopefully I won’t get coal in my Easter basket, although I’m pretty sure that Tanner will.
Central Florida Native Plant Sale is coming to Kissimmee April 5th and 6th.
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