CONCORD — Nine New England cottontails that were born and raised in captivity now call New Hampshire home.
They are here as a result of a major effort among six states to restore their population and protect them before they disappear forever. A special fundraising effort is now underway through the N.H. Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program to support this multi-faceted restoration effort for New Hampshire’s only native cottontail.
The nine New England cottontails were born in a captive-breeding facility at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island earlier this year. In September, they were transported to a special outdoor pen in Newington, where they will spend the winter while transitioning to life in the wild.
In addition to captive breeding, on-the-ground habitat restoration is helping to create more of the shrubland habitat that New England cottontails need for food and shelter. This winter, biologists will provide supplemental food and will be monitoring areas where wild New England cottontails are known to still occur.
The Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program is seeking public support for this exciting restoration effort. Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, 03301. Make checks payable to NH Fish and Game/Nongame Program. For a print-and-mail contribution form, visit wildnh.com/Wildlife/Nongame/support_nongame.htm.
New England cottontails are endangered in New Hampshire and are a candidate for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act. They occur in parts of southern Maine, Southern New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and southeastern New York. Their current distribution is less than a fifth of their historic range.
These native rabbits are 15 to 17 inches in length, with a brown and gray coat that does not change color with the seasons. They often have a black spot between the ears and a black line on the edge of the ears, which can help distinguish between them from Eastern cottontails, but these features are not always present.
New England cottontails are active year round at dawn, dusk and at night. In the summer, they feed on grasses and forbs, and in the winter they eat bark, twigs, and buds of shrubs and young trees. They have three to eight young in a litter and may have two to three litters per year.
The N.H. Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program is the steward for species not hunted, fished or trapped. Through wildlife monitoring and management, plus outreach and education, the Nongame Program works to protect more than 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as thousands of insects and other invertebrates. Learn more at wildnh.com/nongame.