Do Cottontails Live Near You?
Cottontails leave signs of their presence that may be conspicuous or hard to find, depending on the density of vegetation and the season of the year. Telltale evidence includes droppings, tracks in mud or snow, gnawed tree bark, and twigs browsed at a 45-degree angle. The best time to look for sign is in winter, a few days after a snowfall. Droppings are easily spotted on top of the snow, and tracks can remain visible for days.
Cottontails make rounded tracks with their front feet and oval tracks with their hind feet. The front tracks are smaller than the rear tracks. Thanks to a rabbit’s hopping gait, the rear tracks actually print in front of the front tracks. The rear tracks of an adult cottontail (either a New England or an Eastern) are 2.75 to 4 inches long and 1.25 to slightly more than 1.5 inches wide. (The larger snowshoe hare makes hind-foot tracks that are more triangular and considerably longer at 3.25 to 6 inches.)
Rabbit droppings are brown, round, and about a quarter-inch in diameter; wildlife scientists refer to them as "fecal pellets." DNA analysis can distinguish between the fecal pellets of New England cottontails, Eastern cottontails, and snowshoe hares. Landowners and land managers in the range of the New England cottontail can contact state wildlife agencies or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to learn about ongoing DNA studies through which pellet samples can be tested and the possible presence of New England cottontails verified.