Cottontail Rabbit Damage Management

Grapes June 06, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF

Cottontail Rabbits | Cottontail Rabbit Overview | Cottontail Rabbit Damage Assessment | Cottontail Rabbit Damage Management | Cottontail Rabbit Resources | Cottontail Rabbit Acknowledgments | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information


 

Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Exclusion

Eastern cottontail rabbit, Sylvilagus floridanus

One of the best ways to protect a back-yard garden or berry patch is to put up a fence. It does not have to be tall or especially sturdy. A fence of 2-foot (60-cm) chicken wire with the bottom tight to the ground or buried a few inches is sufficient. Be sure the mesh is 1 inch (2.5 cm) or smaller so that young rabbits will not be able to go through it. A more substantial fence of welded wire, chain link, or hog wire will keep rabbits, pets, and children out of the gar-den and can be used to trellis vine crops. The lower 1 1/2 to 2 feet (45 to 60 cm) should be covered with small mesh wire. A fence may seem costly, but with proper care it will last many years and provide relief from the constant aggravation of rabbit damage. Inexpensive chicken wire can be replaced every few years.

Figure 5. A cylinder of hardware cloth or other wire mesh can protect trees from rabbit damage.

Cylinders of 1/4-inch (0.6-cm) wire hardware cloth will protect valuable young orchard trees or landscape plants (Fig. 5). The cylinders should extend higher than a rabbit’s reach while standing on the expected snow depth, and stand 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) out from the tree trunk. Larger mesh sizes, 1/2- to 3/4-inch (1.2-to 1.8-cm), can be used to reduce cost, but be sure the cylinder stands far enough away from the tree trunk that rabbits cannot eat through the holes. Commercial tree guards or tree wrap are another alternative. Several types of paper wrap are available, but they are designed for protection from sun or other damage. Check with your local garden center for advice. When rabbits are abundant and food is in short supply, only hardware cloth will guarantee protection. Small mesh (1/4-inch [0.6-cm]) hardware cloth also protects against mouse damage.

A dome or cage of chicken wire secured over a small flower bed will allow vulnerable plants such as tulips to get a good start before they are left unprotected.

Habitat Modification

One form of natural control is manipulation of the rabbits’ habitat. Although frequently overlooked, removing brush piles, weed patches, dumps, stone piles, and other debris where rabbits live and hide can be an excel-lent way to manage rabbits. It is especially effective in suburban areas where fewer suitable habitats are likely to be available. Vegetation control along ditch banks or fence rows will eliminate rabbit habitat in agricultural settings but is likely to have detrimental effects on other species such as pheasants. Always weigh the consequences before carrying out any form of habitat management.

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Repellents

Several chemical repellents discourage rabbit browsing. Always follow exactly the directions for application on the container. Remember that some repellents are poisonous and require safe storage and use. For best results, use repellents and other damage control methods at the first sign of damage.

Most repellents can be applied, like paint, with a brush or sprayer. Many commercially available repellents contain the fungicide thiram and can be purchased in a ready-to-use form (see Supplies and Materials). Most repellents are not designed to be used on plants or plant parts destined for human consumption. Most rabbit repellents, like capsaicin, are contact repellents that render the treated plant parts distasteful. Dried blood meal is an example of an area or odor repellent that repels by creating a repulsive odor around the plants to be protected. Taste repellents protect only the parts of the plant they contact; new growth that emerges after application is not protected. Heavy rains may necessitate reapplication of some repellents.

Dried blood meal products sometimes keep rabbits from damaging small flower beds or garden plots. Place these substances among the plants. Blood meal does not weather well, however.

Taste repellents are usually more effective than odor repellents. The degree of efficacy, however, is highly variable, depending on the behavior and number of rabbits, and alternative foods available. When rabbits are abundant and hungry, use other control techniques along with chemical repellents.

Toxicants

No toxicants or fumigants are registered for use against rabbits. Poisoning rabbits is not recommended. Since state pesticide registrations vary, check with your local Cooperative Extension Service or USDA-APHIS-ADC office for information on repellents or other new products available for use in your area.

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Trapping

Trapping is the best way to remove rabbits in cities, parks, and suburban areas. The first step is to get a well-built and well-designed live trap. Several excellent styles of commercial live traps are available from garden centers, hardware stores, and seed catalogs. Most commercial traps are wire and last indefinitely with proper care. Average cost is about $20 to $30. Live traps can often be rented from animal control offices or pest control companies.

Figure 6. Plans for the Tom Butzen wooden box trap for rabbits.

An effective wooden box trap (Fig. 6) can be made. This type of trap has proven itself in the field and has been used in rabbit research by biologists. For best results, follow the plan to the letter because each detail has been carefully worked out.

Place traps where you know rabbits feed or rest. Keep traps near cover so that rabbits won’t have to cross large open areas to get to them. In winter, face traps away from prevailing winds to keep snow and dry leaves from plugging the entrance or interfering with the door. Check traps daily to replenish bait or remove the catch—daily checks are essential for effective control and for humane treatment of the animals. Move traps if they fail to make a catch within a week.

Finding bait is not a problem, even in winter, because cob corn (dry ear corn) or dried apples make very good bait. Impale the bait on the nail or simply position it at the rear of the trap (commercial traps may not have a nail). When using cob corn, use half a cob and push the nail into the pith of the cob; this keeps the cob off the floor and visible from the open door. Dried leafy alfalfa and clover are also good cold-weather baits.

Apples, carrots, cabbage, and other fresh green vegetables are good baits in warmer weather or climates. These soft baits become mushy and ineffective once frozen. A good summer bait for garden traps is a cabbage leaf rolled tightly and held together by a toothpick. For best results, use baits that are similar to what the target rabbits are feeding on.

A commercial wire trap can be made more effective (especially in winter) by covering it with canvas or some other dark material. Be sure the cover does not interfere with the trap’s mechanism.

Release rabbits in rural areas several miles from where they have been trapped if local regulations allow relocation. Do not release them where they may create a problem for someone else.

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Shooting

Shooting is a quick, easy, and effective method of control, but make sure that local firearms laws allow it and that it is done safely. In some states, the owner or occupant of a parcel of land may hunt rabbits all year on that land, except for a short time before the firearm deer season. Consult your state wildlife agency for regulations. You must be persistent if shooting is the only technique you rely on. Removing rabbits in one year never guarantees that the rabbit population will be low the next year (this is also true for trapping).

Other Methods

Encouraging the rabbit’s natural enemies—or at least not interfering with them—may aid in reducing rabbit damage. Hawks, owls, foxes, mink, weasels, and snakes all help the farmer, gardener, homeowner, and forester control rabbits. These animals should never be needlessly destroyed. In fact, it is against the law to kill hawks and owls; foxes, mink, and weasels are protected during certain seasons as valuable furbearers. Even the family cat can be a very effective predator on young nestling rabbits, but cats are likely to kill other wildlife as well.

Many people have a favorite rabbit remedy. A piece of rubber hose on the ground may look enough like a snake to scare rabbits away. Another remedy calls for placing large, clear glass jars of water in a garden. Supposedly, rabbits are terrified by their distorted reflections. Most home remedies, unfortunately, are not very effective. Inflatable owls and snakes, eyespot balloons, and other commercial products are readily available in garden centers and through mail order catalogues. Feeding rabbits during the winter in much the same way as feeding wild birds might divert their attention from trees and shrubs and thus reduce damage in some areas. There is always the risk that this tactic can backfire by drawing in greater numbers of rabbits or increasing the survival of those present.


 

Cottontail Rabbits | Cottontail Rabbit Overview | Cottontail Rabbit Damage Assessment | Cottontail Rabbit Damage Management | Cottontail Rabbit Resources | Cottontail Rabbit Acknowledgments | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information

 

Summary of Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Exclusion

Low fences are very effective around gardens or shrubs.

Hardware cloth cylinders will protect fruit trees and ornamental plants.

Habitat Modification

Removal of brush piles, debris, dumps, and other cover makes an area less suitable for rabbits.

Frightening

Several methods are available but none are reliable.

Repellents

A wide variety of commercial formulations is available; most are taste repellents based on the fungicide thiram. Home-remedy types may provide some relief.

Toxicants

None are registered.

Trapping

Commercial live traps or homemade box traps are effective, particularly during winter in northern states.

Shooting

Sport hunting and/or routine shooting of problem individuals are very effective methods.

Other Methods

Many “gimmick” solutions are avail-able but unreliable. For example, sections of garden hose to simulate snakes, water-filled jugs to create frightening, distorted reflections. 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.