Welcoming Critters-Rabbits Return



But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!  ~ Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit


When you have a wildlife garden you are going to attract wildlife even wildlife you may not be so excited to see.  But it is hard to discriminate what wildlife might visit.  My neighbor loves the birds, rabbits and deer but is afraid of snakes.  We always get the call to take the snake away when they come a visitin’.

When I built a habitat to draw in birds and butterflies, along with them came a whole other group I had not expected including my nemesis the vole.  But we accept them all in stride and accommodate as needed.

One of the most common mammals that visits my garden (besides the deer and voles) is the rabbit or eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus DSCN1038floridanus).  For some gardeners, rabbits are not a pleasant sight because they will decimate a veg garden in a day.  And they like many flowers you may not want to part with including natives.  Emily DeBolt recently wrote a great post on our sister blog about bunny bustin’ natives so you can try to control the damage to your flower gardens.  And I do mean try as rabbits will develop a taste for just about anything.

Now you can try to control them…yeah right….or you can learn to live with them. The only real deterrent I use is bird netting over the veg garden, and certain annuals like marigolds that keep them at bay from munching on the patio plants.  These seem to have worked over the years in keeping the rabbits away from the veggies.

Our rabbits come in waves.  We have not had many the last couple of years as the hawks, owls, eagles, fox, local cats and other predators are numerous.  But this year we have two that visit especially a younger one who is content to eat the clover and tall grass I have not been able to weed out of the beds.  I think having these options over the years has also kept the rabbits out of the flowers and veggies (or I could be dreaming).

DSCN1044We name our rabbits as we seem to adopt one a year who comes into the garden.  We have had Harry, George and this year Benjamin who is pictured here.  The rabbits this year seem to be living under the shed at the repossessed house next door which has great cover.  But I do have a love/grrrrr relationship with them depending on what they get into.

So why do I love rabbits even when they get into my garden and munch away.  Well they are so darn cute, and I have always loved The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  Peter is just such a devil, but I can’t help loving him.  My rabbits squeeze under the picket fence like Peter and roam around taste testing the salad bar as if they have found nirvana!

Eastern cottontails are found in meadows and shrubby areas in the eastern and south-central United States, southern Canada, eastern Mexico, Central America and northernmost South America.  If there is high grass, meadow and shrubs nearby to hide, then you will find an abundance of rabbits.  Rabbits find their dens that were dug by other critters or use the space under sheds.  But they build their nests for the baby bunnies in high grasses or plant material like my wildlife garden.  You can’t miss the nest if you see a grassy mass with a fur lining.

Rabbits don’t live long (about 15 months) which I am sure is why they reproduce so much.  They are active year round and will forage on the bark of DSCN1042shrubs during winter if snow is covering plants.  This especially true in my garden where I have to protect young trees and shrubs from these darlings.

Rabbits have an interesting history, and there are many interesting rabbit folktales from different cultures around the world:
  • The Mohawk Indians learned to dance from rabbits
  • African folklore tells stories of the trickster rabbit
  • The Algonquins tell how the great white hare formed the earth
  • In Europe (especially Ireland, Wales and Scotland), it was believed witches would turn themselves into hares, and it was bad luck if a hare crossed your path.
  • In the 19th century England, country folk would not eat rabbits as they believed their grandmothers souls had passed in to the rabbits.
  • Some cultures, like the Egyptians, Aztecs and Hindus, believed the rabbit was associated with the moon.
  • Rabbits were also associated with fertility going back to the Greek and Roman times (we can certainly see why).


So do you have a love/grrrr relationship with any particular critter?  Who do you enjoy seeing every year in your wildlife garden?



“Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: “One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.” ― Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit



© 2013, Donna Donabella. 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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  1. says

    Donna, I was just thinking the other day that I haven’t seen any rabbits in my garden this year. Last year we had two that did a lot of damage to my perennials. They seemed to like whatever the deer didn’t browse. I know one of the rabbits was killed by a hawk (happened right in front of one of my perennial beds – poetic justice for sure) but I’m not sure about the other one. As you pointed out, they seem to come in waves and the only thing you can really due is endure them. I enjoyed your rabbit folktale history, I’ll be watching them more closely the next time a wave brings them to my garden.
    Debbie recently posted..Tips For Designing with Native Plants

  2. says

    I completely understand when a critter destroys parts of the garden. Keeping the other critters higher on the food chain helps keep those hawks around. We saw a fox with a bunny in his mouth last week so someone was food for the day.
    Donna Donabella recently posted..Backyard Foraging

  3. says

    Re: “But this year we have two that visit especially a younger one who is content to eat the clover and tall grass I have not been able to weed out of the beds. I think having these options over the years has also kept the rabbits out of the flowers and veggies (or I could be dreaming).”

    I don’t think you’re dreaming. . .in Italy they plant “rabbit gardens.” They are adjacent to or partially surrounding the “real” garden. In it they plant easy to grow things that rabbits like, like clover. The rabbits browse much more in the rabbit gardens because they don’t have to work at getting under the real garden’s fence, and because the food is good! We have been doing this for several years, and it seems to work.

    Re folklore: The Brer Rabbit stories are a case in point. Ethnologists point out that they reflect both African and Native American mythological and narrative motifs, and are not sure how to separate the two cultural strands in the stories. So the Brer Rabbit stories must rest as a case of two rabbit-centered folkloric threads spun together into a Southern American yarn. It is interesting that Rabbit is Trickster in so many cultures.

    • says

      Wow Ruth so in essence I have found I have a rabbit garden in the grass out back…my property is fenced and everyone else outside my fence keeps their lawns clipped and clover free… so the clover in our lawn seems to satisfy the rabbits and they don’t have to explore and work too hard. Love the idea of a “rabbit garden”.

      I think the trickster idea has come from the perceived ability of rabbits to trick the fox and the hawk into not eating them. Of course I don’t see it as they fall victim so easily.
      Donna Donabella recently posted..Backyard Foraging

  4. says

    I definitely have a love/grrr relationship with my rabbit herd this year. I have many. They have eaten the beans, the lettuce, the peas and yes, even a marigold or two which they are not supposed to like. They do taste EVERYTHING. I think I will lose my witch hazel and river birch as well to the bite of the rabbit. But they are so cute and clever. I can see why the Mohawk Indians learned to dance from them! I have witnessed their little hops and dances. And I will learn to live with them because I do garden for wildlife as well as for me and the joy of it. Next year, rabbit garden! I have already started a large patch of clover.

    • says

      Oh those devils…I think it will help. I also keep bird netting over the veg garden until the plants are so big they don’t enjoy the taste as much…hope that rabbit garden helps.

      I also enjoy their dancing in the garden!
      Donna Donabella recently posted..Backyard Foraging

  5. brenda clements jones says

    Donna, I loved reading about your bunnies! Normally we only have a very few, one, two, three. But this year they are hard to count. I know that there are at least eight around at any given moment. I live in the woods, in the mountains of central Virginia, so there is plenty even for that number to eat. We have had much more rain than we normally have this spring/summer and wonder if that comes into play in their plenitude. I don’t wish them harm but I wonder where their predators are. Perhaps too well fed. Thank goodness they, for the most part, respect the fence that is around our vegetable garden! Hoppy gardening! :-)

  6. says

    I love my rabbits and am happy to have two species: cottontail as you have so eloquently highlighted here and marsh rabbits.

    “my rabbits” (and I don’t name them, but may now that you have provided such fun names to work with), can munch away and they do but I see no damage in my natural garden. They eat the leaves of elephantfoot, Bidens alba and it’s most fun to watch them eat the seedheads of exotic bahai grass or native toadflax. It looks like they are sucking down spagetti.

    Thanks for providing some tips on control in a formal garden and for providing habitat for them. I love that you captured them actually munching on things and I love the legend anecdotes…interesting.
    Loret recently posted..CANADIAN HORSEWEED (Conyza canadensis)

    • says

      So glad you enjoyed the gang Loret. They are fun and I love watching them. Your marsh rabbits are so different and very cute. I had never seen anything like them. Rabbits are so short-lived in the wild that I figure we need to give them a fair shake. I have learned a lot from the comments too.
      Donna Donabella recently posted..Garden’s Eye Journal-August 2013


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