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Walter Scott: While integral to food chain, rabbits still maintain healthy numbers

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Drakesville, Iowa.

Columnist Walter Scott

It is not uncommon to see a cottontail rabbit or two at or near our place most any time of the year. At this time of the year, there is a population explosion of rabbits.

One evening last week, while driving toward Drakesville, my wife and I saw between 30 and 40 rabbits from our house to the blacktop. From the adult rabbit that spends most of her time a few feet off the driveway ignoring vehicles as they come and go to the half-grown bunnies that kick up rocks and dust as they speed out of the way, there were all sizes everywhere.

I am surprised we did not run over any on our way to town, and we both regretted the fact we had not started counting them as we left home just to see how many there were.

Saturday afternoon, our son and grandson, Damon and Zane, came over to visit. As usual, they had Zane’s dog, Carl, with them.

Carl is a beagle terrier mix. His favorite thing to do, other than lie on his back on the couch in the air conditioning on a hot summer afternoon, is to chase rabbits.

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Carl had been standing on the console watching out of the windshield as the rabbits scampered out of the way on the trip over. When they got to the one that lives by the driveway, they decided to let Carl have his fun.

When they stopped the truck, the rabbit watched from less than 10 feet away. The door swung open and Carl hit the ground at full speed. Full speed on a beagle is about half the speed of a rabbit.

She ran a short distance to make the chase sporting and hopped into the tall grass of the hay field. Carl was all in for the chase until he came to the tall grass. He knew it would be more work than it was worth to try to track his prey in grass more than a foot taller than himself.

It was also too hot to work too hard at it. Satisfied he had done his job, he came back to the truck for a ride down to the house. With nothing more involved than the thrill of the chase, Zane let Carl back in the truck.

During hunting season, the chase will become much more serious. A few minutes later, we looked up the driveway to see the rabbit back at her favorite spot happily munching clover.

From this time of year when the rabbit population peaks, to late winter when it seems very few remain, several factors contribute to this decline. Every carnivore in the area preys on rabbits. Coyotes, foxes and bobcats are especially hard on them at this time of year.

They all have their babies and rabbits are a ready source of protein to feed the young. In the fall, humans join the predation.

By late winter, food for the rabbits becomes more difficult to find. As they range farther from cover in search of something to eat, they become lunch for hawks and owls as well as the usual group of predators they face all summer.

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Being an integral part of the food chain would seem to decimate the population. This does not seem to be the case. In spite of something always hunting them, rabbits maintain healthy numbers.

Related Topics: NORTHLAND OUTDOORS
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