Wildlife 101: Cottontail Dynamics - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Wildlife 101: Cottontail Dynamics

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

Cottontail takedown - Goshawk


After you’ve heard or read the same old stuff for about the millionth time,  there are topics that seem to lose a bit of their original luster.  You know, like the standard Wildlife Management 101 speech stating how you can’t stockpile small game or those lessons regarding the ultra dynamic nature of local wildlife populations.  We all know these things are true, it’s just that sometimes we need to have the lesson freshened up a bit — see an illustration that makes it all seem real again.

This winter, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a classic example of this very thing — a firsthand wildlife refresher coarse of sorts.  It’s been happening at one of my favorite North Iowa rabbit patches.  This prime tract of rabbitat is located in Cerro Gordo County.  It’s on private property and contains a mix of prairie grasses, some volunteer cedars and a farmstead windbreak bordered on two sides by corn stubble.  I didn’t start pursuing the farmstead’s rabbits until the second week of January.  And although I haven’t made it to the spot every day, I have hit it off and on during the past couple of weeks.  So far, I’ve taken a total of 13 cottontails off the property, with no noticeable decrease in the number of rabbits I’m seeing; which is pretty noteworthy for anywhere this far north in Iowa.  On most outings, I continue to start moving rabbits in less than five minutes of leaving the truck.

Cerro Gordo Rabbitat
Here’s the biology lesson.  Last winter, Matt and I walked the same property for rabbits at about this same time of the year.  Not only did we not see or bag any cottontails, we did not even encounter so much as a single set of tracks.  There had been no fresh snowfall for several days, and I think it is safe to say that there were NO rabbits still existing anywhere on the property.  There has been no physical change to the habitat but, twelve months later, the owner called to tell me that his place was overrun with rabbits, I’ve removed 13 in the past few days, and they still appear to be as abundant as ever.  Wildlife populations are indeed dynamic.  All of us already knew that, of course.  It’s just fun to see a real life example of the principal in action.

There is one final twist to the story.  Although the property was formerly one of my favorite places to hunt ring-necked pheasants, I have yet to see a single bird and have not even encountered so much as a pheasant track anywhere on the farm this winter.  That’s the part of the biology lesson that isn’t fun.

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