Tragedy and Joy, Tale of a Cottontail

Young rabbits are adorable

Young rabbits are adorable

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.

Although well hidden, a dog can find them easily by sniffing around

Although well hidden, a dog can find them easily by sniffing around

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).

Dark face markings when this young

Dark face markings when this young

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?”

They look silent, but BOY! can they squeal

They look silent, but BOY! can they squeal

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.

Momma arrived ready to protect her young

Momma arrived ready to protect her young

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.

They can really flatten out and dig in.

They can really flatten out and dig in.

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.

Hopefully a tangle will keep Tanner at bay, although I won't leave him alone until the bunnies are gone

Hopefully a tangle will keep Tanner at bay, although I won’t leave him alone until the bunnies are gone

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 makes me feel a little better to acknowledge that something bad occurred

It makes me feel a little better to acknowledge that something bad occurred

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.

Adult coloring is starting to appear

Adult coloring is starting to appear

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.

Central Florida Native Plant Sale, April 5th and 6th

Central Florida Native Plant Sale, April 5th and 6th

© 2013, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    It’s always heartbreaking when something like that happens—I probably would have done the same thing.

    The rabbits here nest under a blackberry bramble, and no dog could get to them, but something still manages. If we sleep with the windows open in spring, every now and again an ear-splitting squeal will wake us all up. You’re absolutely right about the noise—it sends my beagle into absolute hysterics, even hundreds of feet away.
    Ursula Vernon recently posted..The Madness Is Upon Me

    • says

      I have a lot of bramble in the dog free area and I know that rabbits nest there as I see the bunny “trails”. I also saw several rather fat snakes in that area the other day. If the dogs don’t get em, the snakes surely will. Nature sure can sound horrible at times.

      Get the beagle some earplugs :)
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Mountains in Florida?

  2. says

    Wonderful learning expereince, Loret, and thank you for sharing. You did everything right including from wildlife “rescue” standpoint, making sure mom could take care of the baby rather than humans. I am already sharing link to this story on my website and facebook pages, it’s a really great lesson for those who want to share their garden with wildlife. Thank you!

    • says

      It’s hard to maintain a pleasant attitude toward my pup at these times, but he never gets in trouble. Luckily, as you said, I remember their job and role in life and I don’t give them too many human characteristics in situations like these. :)

      Thanks for stopping by, Dawn :)
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Mountains in Florida?

  3. says

    I have several ground feeders for the mourning doves and rabbits love to visit to grab an easy meal.
    They enter through the gaps in the gates that are too small for my dogs but large enough they can slip through.
    I always check in the morning when I let the dogs out for the first time but I don’t always see the rabbits in the yard but the dogs always seem to.

    Normally the rabbits exit the way they came in. But on a couple of occasions either they felt they couldn’t make it to the gap in time or they decided to find another escape route, the dogs would chase after them.
    One rabbit even tried to jump over the top of the chain link fence. It almost made it! I’m not sure if it had a heart attack after that or what but it lay dead on the ground while the dogs sniffed it’s now still body.

    Although I know that rabbits are considered natures fast food, it’s sad when you witness an animals death whose time shouldn’t have come.
    Kevin J Railsback recently posted..Common Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie

    • says

      Kevin, we must have the same mindset. Every morning when I open the door to let the troops out, I yell….”RUN BUNNIES RUN”. I do perform a cursory check before I actually open the door and have been known to chase a few cottonstails who catch my eye. Had one last week who just kept circling round and round this large shrub, likely laughing at me following along. I finally realized what I was doing (not enough coffee) and reversed, sending bunny scooting off toward the dog free area. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Mountains in Florida?

    • says

      Hi Donna,

      If it makes you feel any better, the fur that you find may not be from the live bunnies. Mom lines the entire nest with fur from her breast…and may I add a surprisingly substantial quantity. I was quite amazed the times I have found abandoned nests with the amount of fur used in the building of them. Certainly mom makes a nice soft spot for her young….just not particulary good on location choice :(
      Loret T. Setters recently posted..Mountains in Florida?

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