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Extension Wildlife Management

Cottontail Rabbits

Cottontail rabbitCottontail rabbits, Sylvilagus floridanus, are one of the most commonly observed animals in urban and suburban areas, but they can be found throughout Kansas. Their light brown upper body contrasts with their white fur belly. Long ears and a stubby powder-puff tail are their distinguishing characteristics. Adult cottontail rabbits are 15 to 19 inches long and weigh 2 to 4 pounds.

Cottontail rabbits produce 3 to 4 litters of young a year, beginning in late winter and continuing into early fall. Females build a nest approximately the size of a softball, line it with fur from their bellies, and nurse their young for 2 to 3 weeks before they leave the nest.

Leash laws restricting movements of dogs and cats and laws prohibiting the use of firearms protect cottontail rabbits.

Cottontails prefer brushy cover interspersed with open areas. Abundant growth during the spring and summer provides the rabbits with all the food and cover they need. In the winter, when food is limited, rabbits eat twigs and gnaw the bark of woody plants. This is why young trees and seedlings need to be protected from rabbits during the winter months. Landscaped yards provide excellent rabbit habitats, accounting for the prevalence of cottontails in most suburban and urban areas.

Cottontail rabbits spend their lives in small areas of 10 acres or less. In good habitats where cottontail rabbits are firmly established, efforts to permanently reduce the rabbit population generally are not successful. Once a number of rabbits are removed, cottontails from adjacent areas move in.