For the Cottontails

Eastern cottontails are by far one the most commonly admitted species to wildlife rehabilitators every year, usually coming in as infants or juveniles. They often come into rehab at the age when they are weaning off milk and transitioning to solid foods.

Cottontails are one of the most stress-sensitive species seen at rehab clinics, so anything we can do to help them unwind and chill out while they are in rehab is the goal.

For these reasons, a large variety of fresh wild greens will hopefully act as a relaxing comfort food and also introduce the young rabbits to some of the natural salads they may encounter in the wild post-release.

Below, I have shared in more detail about the preferences of cottontails. Determining this is not an exact science. Rabbits do not return surveys.  However, experts can interpret something about  the popularity of foods based on the quantity and frequency of a food item in a diet– which is how these preferences were determined. For an item listed as less popular with rabbits, we cannot with complete surety say they do not “like” the item. It may just be they do not have as much access to the food. So all these foods hold value to collect and offer as variety and enrichment.

When I use the term “greens,” I am referring to non-woody parts of plants— the leaves and non-woody stems and above-ground parts of the plant.

When I use the term “browse” I am referring to the small twigs, branches, in some cases even bark of a shrub or tree, along with any green leaves that are still attached.

I have noted when an item has a potential to be toxic. Please read the section on risky plants and search the item in the database for potentially more info about the nature of the risk.

Dr. Peach Van Wick, DVM, MS, Research Fellow at the Wildlife Center of Virginia explained to me that rabbits’ gastrointestinal tracts are most closely similar to horses. While the toxicological studies of rabbits may be fewer, there have been a lot more studies of horses.  I’d look more closely at any plant that is toxic to horses, if I was considering feeding it to a rabbit.

Cottontail eats chickweed greens.

Popularity rating: 

Highest  5 Star= Favorite food!

4-Star= Preferred

3-Star=  Eaten

2 Star= Eats Somewhat

Lowest  1 Star=   Nibbles


Cottontail Greens

Greens Genus, Species Popularity Is there a warning associated with these greens?
sow thistle Sonchus spp. Favorite
wheat Triticum spp. Preferred  YES
clover, red Trifoium pretense Preferred  YES
crabgrass Digitaria spp. Preferred
dock Rumex spp. Preferred YES
plantain Plantago spp. Preferred
goldenrod Solidago spp. Eaten  YES
panicgrass Panicum spp. Eaten  YES
strawberry Fragaria spp. Eaten
yarrow, common Achillea millefolium Eaten  YES
alfalfa Medicago spp. Eaten  YES
aspen Populus spp. Eaten
bentgrass Agrostis spp. Eaten  YES
blackberry Rubus spp. Eaten
bluegrass Poa spp. Eaten  YES
smartweed Polygonum spp. Eaten YES
laurel, great Rhododendron maximum Eaten YES
lespedeza Lespedeza spp. Eaten
lupine Lupinus spp. Eaten YES
orchardgrass Dactylis glomerata Eaten  YES
quackgrass Elymus repens Eaten  YES
rose Rosa spp. Eaten
timothy Phleum pretense Eaten  YES
aster Aster spp. Eats somewhat
beggar-ticks Bidens spp. Eats somewhat
bristlegrass Setaria spp. Eats somewhat  YES
buttercup Ranunculus spp. Eats somewhat YES
chickweed Stellaria spp. Eats somewhat
cinquefoil Potentilla spp. Eats somewhat
corn Zea mays Eats somewhat  YES
crowngrass Paspalum spp. Eats somewhat  YES
dandelion Taraxacum spp. Eats somewhat
hawkweed Hieracium spp. Eats somewhat
millet Echinochloa spp. Eats somewhat  YES
mustard Brassica spp. Eats somewhat  YES
pigweed Amaranthus spp. Eats somewhat  YES
pine Pinus spp. Eats somewhat
ragweed Ambrosia spp. Eats somewhat YES
rye Secale cereale Eats somewhat  YES
spruce Picea spp. Eats somewhat
violet Viola spp. Eats somewhat
Virginia creeper Parthenocisus spp. Eats somewhat YES
pussytoes Antennaria spp. Nibbles
vervain Verbena spp. Nibbles
wheatgrass Elmyus spp. Nibbles  YES
wood sorrel Oxalis spp. Nibbles  YES
Red clover and a bun-bun.

Cottontail Browse

In addition to greens, there are a large number of shrub and tree browse that rabbits may eat.

Rabbits—especially adults in winter— will nibble on twigs and even young bark to get to the cambium layer under the bark. Browse should be kept in water during transport, kept in the cool shade and offered as soon as possible after cutting.  It does not save well. Branches with leaves still attached can be offered in the enclosure.

Browse Genus, Species Popularity Is there a warning associated with this browse:
sumac Rhus spp. Favorite  YES
hackberry Celtis spp. Favorite
honeysuckle, Japanese Lonicera japonica Favorite  YES
basswood Tilia  americana Preferred
ash Fraxinus spp. Eaten  YES
aspen Populus spp. Eaten
barberry Berberis spp. Eaten  YES
birch Betula spp. Eaten
blackberry Rubus spp. Eaten
blueberry Vaccinum spp. Eaten
buckthorn Rhamnus spp. Eaten  YES
burning bush Euonymus spp. Eaten  YES
dogwood Cornus spp. Eaten
elm Ulmus spp. Eaten
greenbrier Smilax spp. Eaten
hemlock Tsuga spp. Eaten
hickory Carya spp. Eaten
honeylocust Gleditsia spp. Eaten
hornbeam, American Carpinus caroliniana Eaten
huckleberry Gaylussacia spp. Eaten
laurel, great Rhodadendron maximum Eaten YES
lespedeza Lespedeza spp. Eaten
locust, black Robinia spp. Eaten YES
maple Acer spp. Eaten YES
mountain laurel Kalmia spp. Eaten YES
oak Quercus spp. Eaten YES
rose Rosa spp. Eaten
sumac Rhus spp. Eaten
sweetfern Comptonia peregrina Eaten
viburnum Viburnum spp. Eaten
alder Alnus spp. Eats somewhat
pine Pinus spp. Eats somewhat
walnut, black Juglans nigra Eats somewhat
bittersweet Celastrus spp. Eats somewhat  YES
chokeberry Aronia spp. Eats somewhat  YES
hawthorn Crataegus spp. Eats somewhat  YES
hazelnut Corylus spp. Eats somewhat
New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus Eats somewhat
pear Pyrus spp. Eats somewhat   YES
spruce Picea spp. Eats somewhat
willow Salix spp. Eats somewhat
witch hazel, American Hamamelis virginiana Eats somewhat
poison ivy Toxicodendron radicans Nibbles YES
sassafras Sassafras albidum Nibbles