Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Eastern Cottontail courtship dance

This jumbo Eastern Cottontail hangs out in my yard, along with another. I like rabbits, and they're welcome here. Even when they nip off plants I'd rather wish they wouldn't.

Anyway, I looked into the backyard this morning, and there was one of the cottontails browsing on vegetation. An instant later, the other rabbit - probably the male - dashed into view. He struck me as full of amorous intent, and I ran to get the camera.

The lens I happened to have already mounted was my 100mm macro, and that's what this video was shot with. Fortunately, the rabbits were not far off, and I shot them through the bathroom window. Not the cleanest landscape I could hope for, but the bunny hijinks are on full display.

To start the games, the male ordinarily approaches the female to within a few feet. They sit still as statues for a bit, then he lunges and she leaps straight up and he races underneath her. They usually land facing one another, and repeat the jump game although often alternating which sex does the jumping. Many other jumps, brief dashes, and other rabbit gymnastics take place and it is quite the spectacle.

After a bit, one of the rabbits slipped off and I thought the display was over. But it returned in short order and fortunately I had retrieved my larger 300mm lens in the interim. This video shows their final courtship interaction, ending with her (no doubt) leaping into the dense growth. He then stands on his back paws, as if trying to ascertain the doe's position. A minute after I stopped recording, he also leapt into the plants, in the same spot. As the courtship dance often immediately precedes mating, I imagine some fun was had in those day lilies and daffodils. If I had only got that on video!

This dance is part of the important build-up to making baby bunnies. I've only witnessed it a handful of times, and I think all but once it was in the very early morning. The other time was at dusk, when it was almost too dark to observe. Perhaps the rabbits do much of their courting under cover of darkness and that's why we don't often see the spectacular display. If you do see strange saltatorial rabbit behavior, now you'll know what's going on.

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