Cottontails, like many other wild animals, can thrive in suburban and urban areas. These rabbits may do considerable damage to flowers, vegetables, trees and shrubs, in situations ranging from home garden plots to large commercial operations. They eat a wide range of flowers including new tulip shoots. These rabbits will also eat most vegetables, although they usually ignore corn, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes. Cottontails also gnaw the bark or clip branches of home landscaping, orchards, forest seedlings, and park trees and shrubs. Plants of the rose family, including apples, blackberries, and raspberries seem to be preferred. They damage a wide variety of deciduous shade and ornamental trees and even chew on evergreen trees.
One of the best means to protect your backyard garden or berry patch is to put up a small fence. A low fence of 2-foot chicken wire with 1-inch or smaller mesh is sufficient. Be sure that the bottom is tight against the ground, or buried a few inches deep, as cottontails may otherwise try to push under it. The chicken wire may be rolled up and stored during winter to prevent it from deteriorating. Larger, more permanent fences of welded wire or chain link are costly but last longer.
Cylinders of ¼-inch hardware cloth 18-20 inches high will protect young trees from damage. Remember that the cylinders must extend high enough to be above the rabbit's reach when the animal is standing on snow. The cylinder should stick out at least 1-2 inches beyond the trunk or stem of the protected tree or shrub. Some commercial tree guards or tree wrap may also be useful, but rabbits will chew through tree wrap if food is in short supply.
A small dome or cage of chicken wire placed over a flower bed will protect tulips and other vulnerable flowers until they are large enough to be ignored by the rabbits.
Several commercial repellents can discourage browsing by cottontails. Most are contact or taste repellents which render the treated plants distasteful to the rabbits. Some repellents are poisonous and require safe use and storage. Check with the Massachusetts Pesticide Bureau for information on the legal use of repellents. Mothballs or dried blood meal are sometimes used as odor repellents to keep rabbits away from the treated area. However, the efficacy of these products is often quite variable, depending on the behavior and abundance of rabbits and the availability of alternative foods.
Cottontails can often be captured in wooden or wire box traps, about 24 inches in length, and 10 inches in height. Apples, carrots, or cabbage are good warm weather baits. Wire traps are more effective when covered with canvas or other dark material. Remember that wildlife may not be relocated in Massachusetts. In good habitats, other rabbits will quickly replace those which are trapped.
Shooting is quick, simple, and effective in rural areas where firearms discharge is safe and lawful. This may be most effective when targeting a few persistent animals.
Most home remedies, such as predator decoys, mirrors, noisemakers, balloons, or other devices are of dubious effectiveness. These gimmicks may work for a short time, or on individual animals, but should not be relied on. Rabbits will habituate to the presence of these items and will soon disregard them.
Cottontails are an important natural resource in Massachusetts. They are classified as a game species, for which established regulated hunting seasons exist.
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