Mission: New England Cottontail

Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
New England Cottontail. Credit: Tom Barnes, USFWS

Research Question

Where do we see signs of New England Cottontails in Maine?

You're invited

If you live in any of the areas under the red-dotted line in the map to the right, there may be New England Cottontails nearby! Kelly, Kate, and Katelyn (from the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge) want your help looking for signs of the New England Cottontail in a shrubland near you! New England Cottontails are Maine’s only native rabbit. Maine had many New England Cottontails in the mid-1900’s. Now, these rabbitts are only present in 15% of their former range in Maine. The folks at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge want to know where you find signs of these rabbits so they can learn more about where they are and are not.

Ideal New England Cottontail habitat. Credit: USFWS

Mission steps

  1. Check the range map above to make sure you are in a possible New England Cottontail area.
  2. Print out the Maine New England Cottontail Working Group’s tracking cards along with an Upland Species Survey datasheet.
  3. Look for young forest, aka shrubland, habitat (e.g., brush, shrubs, thickets, and/or densely growing young trees).
  4. Make sure that your investigation takes place on public land OR if on private land, make sure you have permission to survey there.
  5. Search for signs of the New England Cottontail such as tracks, scat, and evidence of browsing. Remember, you are looking for signs of rabbits which are much easier to spot than live animals.
  6. Take detailed notes and photos on the signs you see.
  7. Post your FOUND or NOT FOUND data to Vital Signs!

Why this Mission matters

The New England Cottontail is Maine’s only native rabbit. Maine had many of these rabbits in the mid-1900’s. Now, the New England Cottontail’s range (where they live) has shrunk quite a bit. This is mainly due to changes humans have made to the landscape. Not only does the New England Cottontail rely on young forest to survive, but so does over 100 other species. To ensure a healthy Maine environment, biodiversity is key. High biodiversity provides many natural services, resources, and cultural benefits. A balance of young and mature forest will help support more New England Cottontails. This can also increase biodiversity. New England Cottontails are only found in about 15% of their former range in Maine because of a lack of habitat. Since 2007, they have been on Maine’s endangered species list.

There are limited federal and state lands, and in order to help the NEC bounce back to a healthy population, restoration projects with private landowners are key. Many private landowners have concerns about what it may mean to have a state endangered species on their property, here are some FAQ’s that you may have about NECs and what their presence on your land means. In 2013, Massabesic Middle School helped out with a NEC survey along with the York County Soil and Water Conservation District, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Read more about their work here.

You can help the New England Cottontail by sharing what you find.

New England Cottontail Tracks. Photo Credit: Kelly Boland, USFWS

Want to know and do more?

• Check out this Hot Topic! blog post: http://vitalsignsme.org/blog/where-do-you-see-signs-new-england-cottontail

• Visit: http://newenglandcottontail.org/ for more information on the New England Cottontail

• More information on the New England Cottontail, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s site for New England Cottontail Conservation: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/newenglandcottontail/

• Check out this awesome ID card made by some Massabesic Middle School students: http://vitalsignsme.org/new-england-cottontail-id-card

• Pocket Guide to winter tracks in New England: https://www.fws.gov/newengland/pdfs/Track_Card.pdf