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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

On this day of the bunny, I miss seeing wild rabbits

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
BLADE COLUMNIST

Here comes Peter Cottontail, all dressed up in his Easter Sunday best. From chocolate, marshmallow, stuffed, ceramic, greeting cards, inflatable, and some even live with fur coats, Easter bunnies come in all sizes, colors, and materials. The animal with the long floppy ears and sweet face in the spotlight today is a counterpart to Santa Claus for giving gifts to good boys and girls, but he is certainly a lot cuter.

German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country in the 18th century are credited for introducing the Easter bunny tradition in the United States. Originally, the children formed their hats and caps in the shape of nests and hid them in the house for the osterhase (Easter bunny) to find and leave eggs.

It's surprising that I never started a rabbit collection because bunnies, which we call rabbits the other 364 days of the year, are a favorite. There are a couple reasons to start a rabbit collection now. I already have a good start with Easter decorations around the house. But, more important, and a subject dear to my heart, is that I no longer see rabbits in my yard or throughout the neighborhood. Perhaps I am looking for them at the wrong hours or places but it has been at least two years since I watched them bobbing through the yard and I miss them.

Once upon a time the celebration of Easter here at the Farm House included setting out a pan of carrot and cabbage slices for all the Easter bunnies in the neighborhood. That plan was abandoned a year ago because while I may be an animal lover I don't intend to feed snacks to possums and raccoons. They steal enough cat food from the porch as it is.

So where are the rabbits? Friends who live in Lenawee County see lots of them. My concern has prompted homework and several telephone calls to determine why they are not around here and what I might do to entice them.

Just as I suspected, coyotes no doubt find rabbits good eating, as do aviators including hawks and owls. But, in talking to representatives of the Lenawee County Nuisance Animal and Pest Control I learned that man also plays a role in the absence of rabbits in some regions.

Today's tendency to farm as much acreage as possible has eliminated the hedgerows where rabbits like to live and hide from predators. Urban growth has also reduced ideal living spaces of dense, thick shrub lands and room to build their underground nests where they raise their babies and are safe from rain and snow. Rabbits live in groups called a herd in an underground warren, with boroughs that are linked by tunnels.

The lack of appropriate habitat in New England is said to be instrumental in placing rabbits on the endangered species list and for prompting funding by the Center for Conservation Incentives to benefit them.

There is ample space to build a dense thicket in my two-acre yard and it may be a good reason during the high gas prices not to mow the grass. But would the rabbits come?

Or should I have taken Becky Borton's offer?

What I have labeled the luckiest, happenstance call of the decade was to the Lenawee County administration office. The person answering said, "I can't believe you are calling about rabbits, I am feeding 14 babies every day."

Ms. Borton, who lives in Tipton, Mich., rescued the rabbits in two straw nests in her barn and feeds them milk from bottles and says they took quickly to using kitty litter. She is sure the parents were domestic rabbits turned loose because they have orange fur, not the gray of wild rabbits, and because wild rabbits have smaller litters.

So what about the 14 orphan rabbits on Easter Sunday? They either have, or soon will be, taken to the Saturday auction in Hillsdale.

Do you want a bunny, Mary Alice?, Ms. Borton asked.

I almost said yes. I have plenty of kitty litter.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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