New England Cottontail

Restoring a Rare Rabbit

New England cottontail in habitat

New England cottontails need thick habitat year-round to survive./J. Greene

The New England cottontail lives in parts of New England and New York state. The range of this once-common rabbit has shrunk and its population has dwindled over the last 50 years, so that today this unique native mammal needs our help to survive.

The most critical threat to the cottontail is a loss of habitat – places where rabbits can find food, rear young, and escape predators. Development has taken much of the land once inhabited by cottontails and other wildlife. And thousands of acres that used to be young forest (ideal cottontail habitat) have grown up into middle-aged and older woods, where rabbits don't generally live.

Today the New England cottontail is restricted to coastal southwestern Maine, southeastern New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York east of the Hudson River – less than a fifth of its historic range.

This Cottontail Needs Brush

New England cottontails need brush, shrubs, and densely growing young trees, habitats described by the general term young forest. In the past, natural factors created plenty of young forest. But today, because we don't let wildfires burn unchecked or beaver dams flood and kill trees, and because many people oppose clearcut logging, we no longer have enough of this habitat for New England cottontails and the dozens of other wild animals that need it.

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The American woodcock is one of many kinds of wildlife that also need young forest./T. Flanigan

Other Wildlife Will Benefit

People and their activities have made the landscape less hospitable to cottontails. Fortunately, we can manage the remaining acres of potential habitat to help the New England cottontail, along with birds such as the American woodcock, golden-winged warbler, brown thrasher, and indigo bunting, and reptiles like the black racer and wood turtle, to name but a few.

More than 100 kinds of wildlife in the Northeast use young forest during part or all of their life cycles. Making and renewing young forest can be time-consuming and expensive, and it needs to be an ongoing task. But we owe it to wildlife -- and to our children and grandchildren -- to keep enough of this important natural resource around.

You Can Help!

Become a well-informed advocate for New England's native rabbit by exploring this website to learn why and how conservationists are helping the New England cottontail. Support habitat projects on public and private lands -- projects that often yield jobs, revenue, and sustainable, locally produced timber products along with more and better opportunities for birdwatching, hunting, and viewing wildlife.

Want to make some young forest? Most land in the Northeast is privately owned, so landowners can help wildlife in a big way by signing up for habitat creation projects. Town select boards and conservation commissions can propose projects on municipal lands, and land trusts can make young forest on holdings they manage. Contact your state’s wildlife agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service, or a certified forester to learn more. For some projects, full or partial funding may be available.

Read Saving a New England Native (pdf), an article on New England cottontail conservation from Northern Woodlands Magazine.
A Landowner's Guide to New England Cottontail Habitat Management (pdf) is a 36-page (17.8 MB) publication providing information on how to create and maintain habitat for cottontails.