Although much of its habitat has been lost, there are still wild and preserved places on Cape Cod that provide the environment so badly needed by the New England Cottontail ; One of these places in the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. This partnership of land owners has come together to support current research being done right here in Mashpee. The research, which reports New England Cottontail population in the refuge, is being conducted by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife with assistance from members of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Orenda Wildlife Land Trust.
At one time on Cape Cod, the view out your kitchen window might have included the small fury form of a New England Cottontail. These days however, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that you will be paid a visit from this once prolific rabbit.
The New England Cottontail which previously thrived throughout the region is in peril. It now inhabits only 14% of its once large range due to a number of factors. The most pressing factor is, as with many wild creatures, the loss of habitat. Cottontails depend on shrub thickets, young regenerating forests and costal shrublands to provide the low woody ground cover they call home and as Cape Cod has been developed and subdivided over the years, this habitat has become cleared and fractured.
Another factor in our local cottontail’s decline has been displacement by its cousin the Eastern Cottontail. This more adaptable rabbit is better at detecting and fleeing from predators, typically breeds in higher numbers and can thrive in a variety of habitats including the lawns and golf courses that are ubiquitous in our area. For all these reasons it has secured its hold on Cape Cod and as a result, furthered the decline of the New England Cottontail.
Article by Leah Servis, Nelson House caretaker