Cottontail Comeback

Soon after we purchased our Littleton, Colorado, farm, cottontails disappeared from the property, extirpated by red fox that established a den beneath the barn.  After almost twenty years of residence, the fox were, in turn, killed off by coyotes that denned here for a year or two before I, in concert with neighbors (who began to lose pets) managed to discourage their presence.

This week, I have seen cottontails on the farm for the first time since the early 1990s.  Given their reproductive rate, I anticipate a healthy population in the near future, controlled by owls, hawks, snakes and visiting fox; should red fox move back to our farm, the cottontail recovery will be short lived.  Such is the beauty of natural ecosystems in which prey (cottontails, mice, voles, etc.) combat predation with evasive behavior and prolific reproduction; indeed, female cottontails give birth to four litters or more in the course of a year and females born in the early spring often breed by late summer.

In Colorado, there are two species of cottontail east of the Front Range foothills.  Desert cottontails inhabit the dry grasslands of the High Plains while eastern cottontails are found in riparian corridors of the Piedmont; it is the latter species that has taken advantage of suburban lawns and farmlands near the major cities.  A third species, Nuttall's cottontail (also known as the mountain cottontail) inhabits mountain parklands, mountain meadows and wooded canyonlands.