April 15, 2022 at 12:41 pm
MDIFW’s restoration efforts for the New England cottontail rabbits (a State Endangered species) is a multi-faceted approach. One aspect is monitoring their population via fecal pellet collection surveys in winter and early spring to document occurrences and monitor existing populations. As such, we’ve conducted regular surveys at Scarborough Marsh Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Scarborough since our restoration effort began. In 2010, NEC were confirmed at Scarborough Marsh in an area off from Manson Libby Road. However, at the time there was very little suitable habitat and few rabbits. So, the Department engaged in the second aspect of our restoration effort: habitat management.
MDIFW has dedicated 65 acres of the WMA to provide the thickets of shrubs and young trees that cottontails need. Not all of the cottontail management area is suitable for cottontails yet, but through a combination of management techniques including: a timber harvest, allowing field areas to revert to shrubland, and planting native shrubs, the amount and quality of habitat has greatly improved. Unfortunately, however the 2010 record was the last documented occurrence of cottontails on the WMA…until now.
With a large amount of high-quality habitat ready for rabbits, MDIFW enacted a third aspect of our restoration effort: translocation. On March 4th, MDIFW received 3 New England cottontails from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife who trapped them from a breeding colony they manage on Patience Island, RI. MDIFW trapped 5 additional rabbits from an existing population in Cape Elizabeth. Rabbits were held at the Maine Wildlife Park until release. Six rabbits were released at Scarborough Marsh WMA on March 22nd, with the other two released on March 29th. All rabbits were equipped with radio-transmitters so we can monitor survival.
As of this posting, all 8 are alive and have remained on the WMA near where they were released. Rabbits (and other animals) often have a high mortality rate the first 2 weeks after being moved to a new location, so having all 8 survive to this point is a tremendous success. With luck, we’ll have baby bunnies born soon! MDIFW thanks our friends at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for providing rabbits, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands for allowing cottontail trapping on their property, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge for growing and assisting with shrub planting, and volunteer intern Julia Mast for monitoring the rabbits after release.