Most of us enjoy seeing cottontail rabbit families in our yards (unless they are nibbling on our lettuce, of course). They’re definitely cute. The bunnies we see in our yard are almost certainly the hybrid Eastern Cottontail. The “real” New England Cottontail has become threatened here due to loss of habitat. It is very difficult to distinguish New England cottontails from Eastern cottontails. The native New Englanders are a bit smaller, and have ears trimmed with fine black fur. They lack the white forehead spots common on Eastern Cottontails.
The historic range of the New England Cottontail has always been small; southern Maine and New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and south to Rhode Island. These rabbits depend on small early succession forest patches within a larger habitat of forest and shrub wetlands. They eat the shrubby undergrowth that abounds in young forests. It is thought that historically they thrived in habitats along waterways, disturbed by hurricanes or fires. But due to development, forest fire suppression, and the introduction of alien invasive shrubs such as autumn olive, barberry and honeysuckle, New England Cottontails have lost 80 % of their former habitat. They are listed as threatened in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, endangered in New Hampshire and Maine, and extirpated from Vermont.
A recent article by nature writer Ted Williams entitled “Recovery: Second Chance for Yankee Cottontails” appeared June 7, 2017 in a Nature Conservancy blog called Cool Green Science. Williams states that the Eastern Cottontail is a hybrid mixture of cottontail breeds. It was introduced repeatedly from the late 1800’s through 1970 by hunting clubs and fish and wildlife services, and is so hearty that it has outcompeted our native cottontail. New England Cottontails are dependent on early successional forest, which we have pretty much run out of in New England. Eastern Cottontails, however, do well in all habitats, especially suburban yards and edges. read more…
While working in your yard this summer, you might want to identify the plants and determine if they are native or non-native species. Many non-native invasive plants are outcompeting our native plants with disastrous consequences for our native birds. Non-native honeysuckles are particularly problematic. National Wildlife Federation encourages us to remove them.
Fruit eating birds such as cardinals, catbirds and robins love their tasty red fruits, and spread their seeds far and wide. But these birds are generalists and can eat a wide variety of fruits. The result is that Asian honeysuckle covers huge swaths of land, smothering out our native plants. Honeysuckle berries are not very nutritious, and worse, the plant itself hosts few beneficial insects. Without beneficial insects, birds have much less to feed growing nestlings. Warblers and chickadees, for instance rely on hundreds of caterpillars per day to feed themselves and their young.
Douglas Tallamy, Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, has found that the number and diversity of plant-eating insects drops dramatically when exotic plants invade. Caterpillars comprise 90 percent of warbler and chickadee diets during the breeding season. Tallamy states, “We are so used to hearing disastrous environmental news, and it often seems there is little that one person can do. But I’ve been going all over the country saying that you can do something. You can change the plants in your yard. read more…
Westford Conservation Trust founding member and Honorary Director Marian Harman recently presented her Feeder Watch birding program to all second graders at the Rita Miller Elementary School! Trust Directors Emily Edwards and Diane Duane were also present to donate three binoculars along with birding guides, bird feeder and feeding supplies. The observations will be recorded and sent to Marian for her Wildlife Watch column.
A huge thank you to Marian Harman for all her hard work and enthusiasm to help these budding citizen scientists!
If you are trying to tread lightly on the earth, and reduce your carbon footprint, one of the most effective steps you can take is to eliminate palm oil from your life. Palm oil is cheap to produce and is shelf-stable, so is the oil of choice for many companies.
But, palm oil production has resulted in the clearing of vast swaths of tropical forests. The Union of Concerned Scientists has been trying to get the word out that the clearing of tropical forests and the establishment of monoculture palm oil plantations destroys critical habitat for many endangered animals and birds. To produce palm oil for our processed foods and body care products, huge areas of forest are cut down and the peat land swamps are drained. UCS states, “Destruction of these ecosystems devastates endangered species habitats and contributes to climate change by releasing global warming emissions into the atmosphere….Tropical deforestation…accounts for about ten percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions”. Not only is palm oil production bad for our climate and animal habitat, palm oil is bad for us. It is mostly saturated fat, a food we should avoid for heart health. read more…