The desert cottontail is distinguished from the brush rabbit, with which it overlaps in the south of its range, by its larger size and ears and by its grayish coat.
Despite their name, desert cottontail rabbits do not just live in desert habitats, but are also found in grasslands and woodlands. They range from Montana in the north to central Mexico in the south, and from altitudes of 1,800 m (5,900 ft) in the Rocky Mountains of the east to the Pacific coast in the west.
Desert cottontail rabbits tend to live alone and avoid interacting with one another. Males rarely tolerate another male near them, but females are sometimes seen gathering in an area with plenty of food without coming into conflict. In general, however, a single cottontail rabbit occupies a territory of about 3 hectares (8 acres).
Often abroad at any time of day, it is, however, most active in the late afternoon and at night, when it feeds on grass, leaves of various plants including cultivated plants, and fruit. Cottontail rabbits can do much damage to gardens and crops. Never far from some form of cover, it darts for safety if alarmed, the white underside of its tail momentarily revealed as it is flicked up. A burrow or a shallow depression in the ground is used for shelter. As the heat of the day increases, the cottontail rabbits spend as much time as possible under cover. When startled, this rabbit will either freeze or run. If it bolts, it follows a zig-zag path to evade pursuers.
Female desert cottontail rabbits are slightly larger than their male counterparts. Both sexes have the characteristic short, white tail that earns this species and its relatives the name cottontail.
Breeding occurs between December and late summer. The female digs a shallow nest hole in the ground and lines it with fur and grass.
Distribution: Western North America.
Habitat: Deserts, prairie and woodland.
Size: 38 cm (15 in); 840 - 990 g (29.5 - 35 oz).
Maturity: 3 months.
Breeding: Litters of 3 young produced in spring and summer; gestation is 28 days.
Life span: 5 years.
Size: 35 - 39 cm (14 - 15.5 in); 0.7 - 1.2 kg (1.5 - 2.5 lb).
This species lives in the woodland and brush that grows on hill and mountain slopes in the western United States, and also on exposed rocky mountainsides. Mountain cottontail rabbits forage at dawn and dusk, usually near running water. They eat grasses, sagebrush and juniper. These rabbits live alone, because otherwise the competition for food would be too great. They are active all year around, and breed in summer. If frightened, a mountain cottontail rabbit will run back on itself in a semicircle to confuse its attacker.
New England Cottontail
Size: 38 - 42 cm (15 - 16.5 in) 1.4 kg (3 lb).
Also known as the wood rabbit, the New England cottontail lives along the eastern coast of the United States, from Maine to Alabama. Its main habitat is dense deciduous forest, where it often lives alongside eastern cottontail rabbits. This species eats plant stems and leaves, but individuals in colder areas are forced to rely on twigs and bark in winter. The coat is pinkish-buff, with a patch of black between the ears. These cottontail rabbits generally take over the burrows abandoned by other animals, since they are not able to dig their own.