New England cottontail

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New England cottontail

The New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis), also called the gray rabbit, brush rabbit, wood hare, wood rabbit, or cooney, is a species of cottontail rabbit represented by fragmented populations in areas of New England, specifically from southern Maine to southern New York. This species bears a close resemblance to the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), which has been introduced in much of the New England cottontail home range. The eastern cottontail is now more common in it.

Litvaitis et al. (2006) estimated that the current area of occupancy in its historic range is 12,180 km2 (4,700 sq mi) – some 86% less than the occupied range in 1960. Because of this decrease in this species’ numbers and habitat, the New England cottontail is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Cottontail hunting has been restricted in some areas where the eastern and New England cottontail species coexist in order to protect the remaining New England cottontail population.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Lagomorpha
  • Family: Leporidae
  • Genus: Sylvilagus
  • Species: S. transitionalis
  • Binomial name: Sylvilagus transitionalis


15-17” in length with a brown and gray coat that does not change color with the seasons. A black spot between the ears and a black line on the leading edge of the ears can help distinguish between Eastern cottontails, but is not always present.


A critical threat is the loss of habitat – places where rabbits can find food, raise their young, and escape predators. Development has taken much land once inhabited by cottontails and other wildlife. And thousands of acres that used to be young forest (ideal cottontail habitat) have grown up into older woods, where rabbits don’t generally live.

Today the New England cottontail is restricted to southern Maine, southern New Hampshire, and parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York east of the Hudson River – less than a fifth of its historic range.


New England cottontails are herbivores whose diet varies based on the season and local forage opportunities. In the spring and summer, the New England cottontails primarily eats herbaceous plants from grasses and forbs. Beginning in the fall and continuing into the winter, New England cottontails transition to mostly woody plants.

Life History

New England cottontails breed throughout the spring, summer, and sometimes into the fall. They have 3-8 young in a litter and may have 2-3 litters per year. New England cottontails are active year round during dawn, dusk, and at night. In the summer they feed on grasses and forbs and in the winter they feed on bark, twigs, and buds of shrubs and young trees.

New England cottontail images

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