Brush Rabbits in San Francisco?


Yes, I’ve run into a number of bunnies recently in our San Francisco parks — in the same parks where coyotes also live! Because of this, I decided to brush-up on them.  :))

The western brush rabbit, also called riparian brush rabbit is a species of small cottontail which lives in the western coastal areas of the US, including San Francisco. Apparently it is endangered. Ten years ago I had incredible difficulty finding brush rabbits here in the city: I was told that they were a rare sight except at Fort Funston, though I did find a couple on Twin Peaks. That was right before they totally disappeared from Twin Peaks as it was converted to a high-maintenance “native” plant museum landscape of grasslands and chaparral. :((

Now, I’m seeing these bunnies again in a number of our parks — not in the restored “native” chaparral areas or grasslands of the city, but rather on the edges of dense brush, willow groves, blackberry thickets and dead wood piles, where they can quickly scurry to safety.  They eat grasses, shoots and especially green clover and berries.

We all know that rabbits dig holes because of Alice who fell down one into Wonderland. However, cottontails, unlike other rabbits, don’t dig “rabbit holes” or burrows as do other rabbits, but rather use the burrows of other animals, or just hide in the dense brush areas through which they create extensive runways. All other rabbits live underground in burrows or warrens.

They are crepuscular, mostly active at dawn and dusk, as well as nocturnally active. Their main predators here in the city are coyotes, foxes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, and owls, . . . and misguided human activity also hurts them. The protection they use to escape predators lies in their ability to remain absolutely still in bushy areas, or to hop in a fast zig-zag pattern in open fields. They can also deliver powerful kicks with their hind legs and their strong teeth allow them to bite in order to escape a struggle.

Rabbits don’t have pads on their feet — they are furry all over! They are distinguished from rodent species by their two sets of incisors, one in back of the other, whereas rodents only have one set. Male rabbits are called bucks, females are does, youngsters are called kits or kittens, and a group of rabbits is called a colony or nest. The brush rabbits are only about a foot long and weigh between one and one-and-a-half pounds.

Brush rabbits produce two to five litters a year — the average being three — and a litter size is usually about 3 kits. That doesn’t seem like so many to me, and I wondered where the phrase “multiplying like rabbits” really came from, but with a short gestation period of only 22 days, they actually can reproduce quickly. It turns out that it is *domestic* rabbits who really can overpopulate: they potentially can have 1-14 kits per litter and potentially 12 litters a year. Yikes! [See: http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/scary.html]

Wikipedia says that,  “It is estimated the home range of the Brush Rabbit averages just under 1-acre for males and just under .5 acre for females. The shape of these home ranges are usually circular but depending on the vegetation can be different in size and shape. Range use probably is not circular in shape or uniform, but rather consists of a series of runways that directly connect high use areas within brush habitat.”

Several rabbits have been observed to feed in the same area simultaneously, but they maintained distances from each other of one to 24 feet before aggressive chases occurred. Females tend to not overlap in their ranges, while males do, which may indicate that females are territorial. Groups of brush rabbits may serve social purposes, such as predator detection.

Cottontail rabbits are almost completely mute animals. They communicate with each other by thumping with their back feet against the ground, and probably visually. Even so, they can scream and screech quite loudly if caught by a predator.

Yes, as I mentioned above, *humans*, in their quest to be helpful, are actually harmful to them. Please let’s leave their habitat alone — they need the dense brush they live in for natural protection! Also, please don’t try to “save” these critters by trapping them and taking them home. They are meant to be wild and they are happiest in their natural environment, living their lives without human interference. The rule of nature is “eat or/and be eaten”: it’s a harsh one, but I think they, as all animals, would choose a short natural and free life over a long life in captivity: Life quality over longevity. I would.

Coyote Encounter During Pupping Season

Good morning Janet,

We had an interesting encounter with I believe the male resident coyote, Silver, at the ball field at approximately 6 AM this morning. We entered the park from Safeway, and as we started the circle path, Molly was alerted to the coyote on the far side of the field by the apartment building bordering the field. Molly took a few steps forward and the coyote immediately trotted toward us across the field.

Molly, who usually barks at the coyotes, gave me a submissive whine like, “lets get out of here”. We turned around and started back and the coyote, then in the middle of the field, veered away from us and went back into the wilder, overgrown area of the park, away from the apartments.

My guess is the pup was nearby. I think some people would have been frightened by this behavior, but I understood it as simply a coyote parent being protective of a pup, and I acted appropriately. Very excited to actually experience it. I have to give credit to Molly. She read the coyote behavior and told me lets go. I had to laugh, “smart dog!”

John

Note: Yes! Good work! If you walk away from a coyote, showing it that you are not interested in it, more than likely the coyote no longer will feel a need to protect itself, or to *message* your dog to leave it alone. So, when walking your dog, always shorten your leash, turn around, and walk away from the coyote the minute you see one. Show disinterest by not allowing your dog to interact, examine or bark at the coyote if you can.

Havin’ A Ball!

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I’ve chosen bursts of still-shots over a video for this post — this allows time to stop and savor each moment during an activity which was moving along so quickly!

Dispersed coyotes often become transients and loners, living on the margins, fringes and interstices of other coyotes’ territories. They are alone with no family to socialize with. They often get bored and lonely — but this one is havin’ a ball!

For entertainment, and to break the boredom and loneliness of a single’s existence, coyotes often engage in innovative play, including with found objects, such as poop-bags, crackling water-bottles or boxes, sticks, or even, as here, with a found ball! In the wild, without a ball to be had, coyotes toy with their prey in this exact same manner.

Playing hones fine skills and judgements, which could come in handy at some point. Innovative play helps the mind and body develop, and may help problem solving in the future, according to behaviorists.

Might it be that she was playing up to the several people who had gathered to watch — actually performing for them? They were thrilled, and she continued, only stopping when everyone had left (it was a workday, these were people on their way to work).

Pups are Four-Months Old Now and Beginning to Venture Out More

Pups in the San Francisco Bay Area are now about four-months old and they are venturing out into the world more, so you might be lucky enough to see one! To a human who doesn’t know them well, a pup from a distance may be indistinguishable from an adult. A couple of weeks ago I posted photos of a young mother who had been regularly mistaken for a pup. But they really are different, beginning with their size which is just about 80% of an adult’s right now. But since coyotes vary in size, you may not be able to use this to tell if what you are seeing is actually a pup, especially if it is alone or far away. At this time of year, most coyotes look smaller than usual because they have shed their very thick, fluffy, 3″ coats for the summer.

Pups are distinguished from adults more by their behavior than anything else. Pups are flighty, quick, very wary, erratic and sometimes not well coordinated. They will show subservience when they greet any of the adults by crouching low. They’ll be the first to flee when they see you, at the same time as they peek around bushes to watch you, always from a very safe distance: they are extremely curious. Some are braver than others and they’ll most likely carry their bravery (or lack thereof) with them into adulthood. Each coyote has it’s own personality, not unlike us humans, and as far as I’ve seen, some of it is innate and some is acquired.

I love watching their bouts of *twisting-and-bowing-or-springing* — there must be a name for this but I don’t know what it is — where they seem not quite able to direct themselves, or they become conflicted about what to do, and instead get tied up in knots for a few seconds as uncontrolled energy mixed with indecision courses through their bodies!

In the photo below you’ll see a four-month old pup born this year to the right, and a yearling — born last year — to the left. The yearlings are protective of their younger siblings and actually help raise them. In this case, these are sisters from different litters from different years and each has one litter-mate.

Please keep your distance from all coyotes. What we should be loving about them is their *wildness*. By not feeding or befriending them, you will be preventing irreversible behaviors from taking hold and helping coexistence to work!

Coyote Family Life: Bantering, then Grooming

Bantering and play are a big part of life for coyotes

Teasing and provoking by pulling on your friend’s leg or neck, ducking and evading, a swing to the left and another to the right, baring your teeth and lowering your head — all the while keeping your ears in a low, non-aggressive position. This is how coyotes play, and they usually do so at their *rendezvous*: after spending daylight hours sleeping and apart, they come together for their social activities around dusk time.

Afterwards, there is a grooming session, where they accept the grooming caresses from each other as they calm down.

happily worn out from the exuberant play, it’s time to calm down for a few moments

This play can involve a mated pair, it can involve a parent and a pup as long as the pup shows proper obeisance, and it can involve adult siblings who actually live apart but continue their childhood relationship for a while.

grooming each other is another way to interact

History is Made: A Bald Eagle Lands in San Francisco!!

Occasionally I post things not related to coyotes, and this post is one of them. It was Thursday, August 3rd at 8:30 am when I and several friends, including John, Paul, Juan, Anna, Ruth, Debby and Lori watched this huge bird fly in from the north, heading right for Bernal Hill, which is a grassy *island*, so to speak, that rises above, and stands out from, the sprawling city below.

We have a number of these *islands* in the city, some of them are grassy and golden, and some are treed and green. Bernal Hill is of the golden variety during the summer months and emerald during the rainy season. After landing on the ground, the bird flew up to a perfect perch — a dead branch. There it remained for two full hours before continuing its flight west and out of sight. During those two hours, the bird looked around, preened, shook itself, scratched itself and pooped!

I contacted Dominik Mosur, San Francisco’s pre-eminent bird expert, and the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met about birds. He says, “Based on my experience, and documented data available to me, both Bald and Golden Eagles are occasionally seen in San Francisco City and County airspace. There was a Bald Eagle sighted perched at Lake Merced many years ago, but aside from that one, there have been no additional historical records of either eagle species actually landing here since we converted the Franciscan ecosystem into city/suburbs.”

“This bird is young, likely just out of a nest. You encountered it as it was probably leaving its parent’s territory for the first time.”
“Bald eagles started nesting close to San Francisco in the last decade (Crystal Springs Watershed to the south, a few years longer up in Marin in the Mt. Tam watershed) and consequently sightings of them flying OVER the city have increased. However, as I mentioned, it’s one of just a couple of records of Bald Eagles perching in SF in modern times — probably going back to the pre-Gold Rush days!” Sightings of this bird in San Francisco are indeed extremely rare, which makes this sighting a truly special event.
 Click on any of these smaller images to enlarge & see as a slide-show.