Cochise County: Baby Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus Audubonii) Chows Down on Carrots

Hey, sometimes you get lucky. The little Sylvilagus audubonii, a desert cottontail rabbit or Audubon’s rabbit near our home in Cochise County, Arizona, might not really be a “baby”…but the young carrot chomper was definitely less than half grown, one of a huge crop of hippety-hoppers born this year. It was chowing down on last night’s leftover sliced carrots (we put them out daily) with enthusiasm, but the little thing would have fit in my two cupped hands easily–and I just happened to have the camcorder with me.

Most of the time, we see these rabbits early in the morning or near dusk, but Bugs Jr. seemed content to risk bright afternoon sunshine in order to have the feeding ground to himself (might be a girl wabbit, but hey). I don’t pack the camcorder around 24/7, but Pam and I’d just been out for a few minutes to eyeball the road damage at the Paloma Trail wash.

The footage of the washout wasn’t really all that, but the chance to film this little guy was too good to pass up.

We never saw even one of these desert cottontails during our first year on the land in 2009. They were around, but they were wisely wary. Big strange animals, two legged or otherwise, could hardly be presumed safe until they’d proven themselves.

Curiously, the rabbit attractant that began drawing them to the Border Fort turned out to be the exit pipe for our French drain system. One little girl rabbit (we figured out she had to be female after her pregnancy became obvious) started using the four inch pipe as a bunny burrow, climbing into it as the ultimate rabbit safe house. It was, too; even if a hunting snake or other varmint had followed the rabbit into the tunnel, the bunny would not be trapped. Scooting ahead of the predator, the little cottontail could travel all the way around the house and head back out again.

Only if there were two snakes hunting as a team would the end be ugly…and we’ve not heard of the legless hunters being all that much on teamwork.

One thing that’s frustrating when researching this species online is the number of copycat descriptions of behavior, life span, etc., that are out there. Google probably knows which “authority” came first, but Google is likely the only one who does. Originality among even relatively prestigious websites does not seem to be a big priority.

Which is part of why we prefer to report mostly on our own direct observations.

The female bun-bun we first noted living in our drain pipe was fascinating to watch. We observed her climbing into the four inch pipe numerous times until she got too big for the PVC diameter and had to struggle, shoehorning herself into the pipe like a woman determined to stuff herself into a dress three sizes too small.

That’s when I took pity on her situation, purchased a couple of sticks of six inch PVC pipe, and constructed a buried “rabbit hide”, a tunnel open at either end (to avoid entrapment) but with a piece of end pipe angled 45 degrees away from the long run. We know some rabbits did use it; whether or not any have done so this year, we couldn’t say.

But they did hang around long enough to notice the sliced carrots we started putting out. Each year since then, more generations of desert cottontails have joined us at or near the food bowls to partake of Bugs Bunny’s favorite food, though they care much less about the carrots when there’s plenty of fresh green vegetation to enjoy during the summer months.

Bugs Jr., featured in the video embedded farther down the page.

Bugs Jr., featured in the video embedded farther down the page.

Every so often, one or two of the rabbits seem to decide Pam and I are worthy of being trusted–Pam more so than me, but then, she’s a regular critter whisperer. I can’t compete with that. I am The Carrot Slicer, though, so I do try to point out to these little guys and gals that they really ought to cozy up to me, too.

They usually don’t quite buy it.

Still, our voices are familiar to them. You can clearly see in the first part of the video that Bugs Jr. is listening closely to my narration while he eats; he’s not alarmed by the sound of a human voice–or at least, not by the sound of this particular human voice.

The video was filmed from a distance of roughly 30 feet between camcorder and subject.
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