Managing for New England Cottontail in State Parks

ArrayJune 23, 2020 at 8:28 am

By Wildlife Biologist Sarah Spencer

If you’re a regular reader of the MDIFW Blog, then you’re already familiar with the New England cottontail. If you’ve joined us more recently, welcome! Here’s a quick recap on some of the New England cottontail-themed blogs we’ve shared with you to date:

As you’ve already learned, it takes partnerships to ensure the success of the state Endangered New England cottontail. One of the partners actively engaged in the project for the past decade is Maine  Bureau of Parks and Lands, specifically Crescent Beach, Kettle Cove, and Two Lights State Parks in Cape Elizabeth.


What might look like mowing of the edges of a walking trail to keep the shrubby brush from taking over is often habitat management in action. Sometimes what looks like trees dying and falling over is exactly the intended result of a specific action. Habitat management at these sites comes in four forms:

  • Biennial mowing of fields adjacent to shrubland to create foraging opportunities along field edges adjacent to cover
biennial mowing
  • Mowing of strips along edges of old fields reverting to shrubland 2-4 times per year to provide a continuous food source during the growing season
mowed edge of an old field
  • Girdling of trees adjacent to shrub cover to encourage root suckering and shrub growth
girdling - before
girdling - after
  • maintaining 10 artificial burrows to provide additional opportunities for escape from predators

We are constantly evaluating and adjusting when faced with new data, methods, and tools we can use to make better decisions about what, where, and how to manage the habitat. The next time you find yourself at one of these State Parks, consider that you’re sharing the trails with an endangered species. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see Maine’s only native rabbit at dawn and dusk here. As you take in the sights and sounds of coastal Maine, take a moment to look for a brown thrasher, American redstart, or eastern towhee; all three of these birds benefit from managing the habitat for New England cottontails.