If you think of bunnies as country bumpkins, think again. Here's why they're well-suited to city life.
For survival, the eastern cottontail rabbit (sylvilagus floridanus), the species of rabbit found throughout Milwaukee and the rest of Southeastern Wisconsin, needs little more than a patch of grass and something green to hide behind, making these pointy-eared kin ideal city dwellers – to a point. The humble cottontail will venture as far downtown as, say, Water Street, according to Jennifer Callaghan, research coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center, to frolic in a low-predator paradise, only to be run over by a car. 8 more fun facts about Milwaukee’s urban rabbits:
In Plain Sight
Cottontails have excellent senses, allowing them to respond quickly to their environment. And while they’re known for having powerful legs (they can sprint up to 18 mph), these rabbits would rather hide, remaining perfectly still, than run.
Local predators include dogs and just about anything with teeth. “I don’t know of any rabbits that would die of old age,” says Scott Diehl, wildlife director of the Wisconsin Humane Society.
Rabbits nosh on all things green but typically not trash, setting them apart from other urban dwellers. But they do eat their own poop, extracting additional nutrients on the second pass.
The skin of adult cottontails is delicate and can tear if they get stuck while running through a chain link fence.
Though not as asocial as snowshoe hares, cottontails prefer solitude and often sleep alone in their own “forms,” or indentations, in the ground.
Leave Those Kids Alone
Cottontail mothers dig shallow indentations for their litters and cover them with a mixture of dried grass and their own plucked fur. Once a nest has been established, a mom will visit it only once or twice a day for nursing so as not to alert predators to the babies’ location. This leads many people to believe the nests are abandoned – in 2016, Milwaukee County residents brought almost 1,200 juvenile or infant rabbits to the Humane Society to be nursed and released back into the wild.
The cottontail can birth 2-5 litters (a total of up to 50 babies) during her short time on earth, often less than a year, which has helped the species to thrive here, where the state’s other big-eared variants, the snowshoe hare and jackrabbit, haven’t.
Scientists in Germany found that European rabbits living in the city dwell in smaller, more evenly spaced dens, drawing comparisons to studio apartments.