Saturday, February 23, 2013

What do foxes eat?

What: A couple nights ago, Meryl, Julia, Brian and I were watching a couple of eastern cottontails chasing each other ferociously around in my backyard. For the 3 or so minutes we watched, one was definitely the pursuer. They would sprint for short periods followed by great acrobatic displays with one or both jumping straight into the air. Their breeding season is March through September, so this might be an early start on staking out breeding territory, a mating ritual between a male and a female, or it could be a late winter food-shortage spat. I'd only ever seen one rabbit at a time in my backyard so I didn't realize that their territories overlapped. I have no idea of gender, nor is there a reliable way of telling without having the animal in hand.

I left some food out to bait so I could get a photo of at least one of the rabbits. For the hour or so I watched the rabbit from my window, it spent about 95% of its time in surveillance mode and the other 5% eating, moving, or grooming. I love the above photo, because it shows those great big back legs and stubby little front legs.

Where: My backyard

Other notes: Eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) are virtually identical to the native New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis), and can only definitively be identified if the animal is dead (genetics or skull morphology). NE cottontail populations have declined since Eastern cottontails were introduced to Vermont over 100 years ago. According to a publication on Eastern cottontails produced by Vermont Fish Wildlife, wildlife agencies and private hunting clubs were responsible for the introductions. Rabbit populations have declined as a whole over much of New England due to reforestation and loss of transitional habitat.

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