Mystery Solved! Desert Cottontail Rabbits Prefer Mesquite Beans to Sliced Carrots!

Our wild desert cottontail rabbits do love the sliced carrots we provide daily…but not nearly as much as they crave mesquite beans.

The mystery had plagued us a bit since 2010, the first year we saw young rabbits near the Border Fort (our home) and began slicing a carrot or two each evening to tempt them to hang around. The tempting worked all through the autumn, winter, and spring–but when the monsoon rains arrived in July of 2011, the desert cottontails soon disappeared. Not all at once, but within a few weeks of the rainy season, there was nary a bunny to be seen. Did they coyotes get them? Were they getting away from the flood waters that occasionally inundate our grounds? What?

2012 passed in much the same way, seeing a buildup of bunnies through June and then the magic disappearing act when the July rains watered the desert. Again in 2013…and finally it sank in. It wasn’t the coyotes feasting on Bugs (though they do snag one every now and then) or the level of moisture per se. It was all about food.

Nobody told us. It just hit me in the brain pan and that was it. I was certain I was right. When the desert bloomed, the desert cottontail rabbits were able to find food they preferred to the classic carrot.

Well, how about that. Then again, what sort of food, exactly? Vegetation, obviously, but we have a lot of variety in southern Cochise County.

Today, the mystery was solved. This was the sixth day of rain since the monsoons announced their arrival on July 2nd. It hasn’t rained all that much yet, not really, but enough that every creature is aware of the change. There are mud puddles to be found, mud to be tracked into the house if one is not careful, and…what was that cottontail eating over there under the mesquite tree? It was time to take a few carrots out to slice–not as many, since our peak number of eight bunnies looking for treats has already dwindled to three–and our most trusting long-eared friend was already out there in the feeding area, nibbling on something.

It took a while, doing the carrot thing and keeping an eye on her (this rabbit seems like a her) while she concentrated on…aha! A mesquite bean pod!

She didn’t even care about the carrots. Oh, she hopped over to check them out, but she only sniffed at those in the bowl and took a couple of halfhearted nibbles of one piece before hopping back over to the mesquite tree. Time to get out the Canon PowerShot, record the process as she stopped near a mesquite bean pod she thought looked good. This rabbit knows what she’s doing when it comes to fine dining. She bent down to sniff the pod, savoring the aroma like one might a fine wine in a classy restaurant. Stepped on one end of the pod to flip the other end up for easy grabbing. Chomped down on the high end. Nibbled the pod from end to end, down the hatch, all with a bright eyed look of sheer gastronomic bliss.

Here. Take a look.

The desert cottontail comes to a stop near a mesquite bean pod she thinks might do...

The desert cottontail comes to a stop near a mesquite bean pod she thinks might do…

...gives the pod a sniff test to be sure it's quality food...

…gives the pod a sniff test to be sure it’s quality food…

...steps on one end of the pod to flip the other end up...

…steps on one end of the pod to flip the other end up…

...gets a firm grip with her Bugs Bunny chompers and starts nibbling away.

…gets a firm grip with her Bugs Bunny chompers and starts nibbling away.

Her concentration is total (almost, except for keeping a weather eye out for predators, as all wild rabbits must do if they wish to see another day) and her enjoyment is obvious.

Her concentration is total (almost, except for keeping a weather eye out for predators, as all wild rabbits must do if they wish to see another day) and her enjoyment is obvious.

Blue Grosbeak and Mesquite Bunny 092

Blue Grosbeak and Mesquite Bunny 093

All gone!  That was yummy!

All gone! That was yummy!

I didn’t time it, being busy taking pictures, but would estimate it took the cottontail about a minute to consume a five inch long mesquite bean pod. There are articles out there stating that mesquite bean pods are gladly consumed by any number of mammals living in the desert. We can now confirm that one such mammal is the desert cottontail rabbit, which does not merely like mesquite beans but loves them, forgetting all about carrots once the summer rains start knocking pods down to the ground where the bunnies can get at them.

The photos on this page were taken late in the day with a Canon PowerShot SX260HS at a range of approximately eight feet under a gray and drizzly sky.