Rabbits in the snow
Last week, in the morning, there were new tracks in the new snow, all over the little hill around the back steps. Rabbits.
When my daughter woke up, I sent her out to look, and she came back inside, cold and delighted. “I feel blessed by bunnies!” she told me.
We are a home that likes our bunnies. We have one who lives in the living room, and a wild one that lives under the shed. We imagine that wild one has been inviting all the neighborhood rabbits over for some sort of winter gathering.
I can see they’ve been hopping all over the snowed-in vegetable gardens, which has my husband talking about improved fencing for next season. I can see they’ve been visiting the elder ox, and going under the shed where our wild bunny lives.
At night, the dog jumps off our bed and runs to the windows, barking. She can hear what we can’t. Usually her night barks are reserved for deer meandering through, but there are no deer tracks right now. So she must be hearing the rabbits.
In the woods out back there are snowshoe hares, leaving the tracks of their enormous feet, but the rabbits congregating around the house now are our regular little Eastern cottontails.
As much as we like to imagine them ringing in the New Year with our shed rabbit, they are probably just looking for food.
Wild rabbits eat leaves and grass — and your vegetable and flower gardens — in the warmer months. In the winter, they rely on dried berries, bark, buds, seeds, twigs, pine needles and any other greenery they can find. Our indoor bunny is nibbling the lower branches of our Christmas tree, so I imagine our outside visitors are enjoying the spruce and fir hedgerow between our house and the neighbor’s.
And from the tracks around the bird feeder, I see that they also are sampling sunflower seeds, another favorite of our indoor bunny.
While the rabbits are hunting for food, they are also being hunted by the owls, hawks, coyote and foxes that share the woods.
My kids were raised on Beatrix Potter, a woman who knew her rabbits. Even though we have never actually known rabbits to dress in handsome blue jackets or pinafores, Potter’s drawings and descriptions of rabbit personality are spot on. At least we think so, and we’ve known a lot of rabbits — pets living inside the house and out, and visitors, some frequent enough to know us well.
My daughter once had a very particular bunny, who would straighten out the wrinkles in a bedspread, and climb onto a book to interrupt reading for a patting session. From her we learned that rabbits like order.
Our current indoor rabbit is also a tidy creature. She will protest if her room and litter box is not kept clean, or if her morning hopabout sessions are cut short for any reason. Now elderly, she prefers a cushion to sit on when the floor is chilly. And she insists on pats, pushing her head into my hand for a good head, ear and neck rub.
Indoor rabbits can live 10 years or more. My husband had rabbit pets in Florida he claims lived up to 20 years.
The outdoor bunnies don’t have it so good. Life is hard in the wild, and cold too, and there are so many predators. Most outdoor rabbits live only about two years.
So we hope they are enjoying their winter romp, finding sustenance and good company in our yard.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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