Friday, June 01, 2007

John Blakeman on CP Bunnies and Hawk Personalities

Pale Male looks down. There is expression on his face.

Baby Bunny hops away and there's a view of the famous cottontail from which the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit gets it's name.

Interesting how at least in the photograph, the cottontail and the mature dandelion head are similar. Does a bunny in a yard of seed heads have less chance of being noticed?

Actually why does this rabbit, a prey animal, have a bright white tail? Why does the White-tailed Deer, another prey animal with a bright white tail have one? There's an advantage somewhere without a doubt. There's a flash with every hop or stride. Is the adaptation similar to the white patch on the rump of some pigeons which studies show tends to pull the predators eye so that when the white disappears as it banks it puts the predator off it's mark? Or is it in the rear so the predator goes for the end of the animal where it might have a chance of getting away? Perhaps Mr. Blakeman who has many fascinating answers to the questions we pose has something to say about that? He has some very astute things to say about the last two posts.

Below find his email answering my question of yesterday, about just why all the Easter present bunnies released into Central Park haven't created a resident population of rabbits, plus a take on Pale Male's personality.


The "rabbits" that people raise in captivity (and then often dump into the wild, presuming they will be happy and thrive) are not rabbits at all. They are domestic European hares. Their abilities to survive on their own outside of a cage have been bred out of these animals over literally hundreds of generations. They have the form of a wild European hare (a species not native to North America), but not the genes or experience required to survive in the wild.

In most states it's illegal to keep the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit in captivity as a pet, or even to raise them. And because they are a wild species, they don't take to cages or living rooms with any ease. Therefore, it's highly unlikely that any real native cottontail rabbits have been released in Central Park.

And even if they were, the abundance of cats and dogs (and now, red-tailed hawks) would quickly consume the nesting rabbits. To be successful, a mother rabbit must carefully select where she will create her "nest," a shallow depression in high grass that will hold her several new-born offspring for a few weeks while she nurses them. The structure is lined with abundant fur and grass. Before leaving, the mother covers the entire thing with the fur and grass and unless you step on the structure, you can walk right by and never see it. The mother spends very little time at the nest, usually only a few minutes periodically through the night when the young nurse.

Predators such as dogs and cats often discover the rabbit offspring nestled silently in the nest. For a new mother rabbit who hasn't yet discovered all of a area's deep grassy hiding places, nest placement is problematic.

The chances of Eastern Cottontail Rabbits being established in Central Park upon the mere release of two or three naive newcomers is extremely remote.

About the personalities of hawks. Every falconer learns this with the training of his or her second hawk. The personality of the first one is presumed to be that of the species as a whole. But the quirky behavioral vicissitudes of the second bird demonstrate the wide variability of animal behaviors---personality---if you will. These creatures are by no means neuromuscular automatons. They are separate, unique individuals, with as many behavioral variances as dogs or humans. It was the near-the-edge personality of Pale Male himself which caused him to decide to occupy the typically aberrant environment of Central Park. "Normal" red-tailed hawks would have remained in preferred wild and rural habitats, not some strange and contrived turf-tar-and-trees habitat overrun with masses of humans and their associated vertebrates.

--John Blakeman

So I've been fooled all these years into thinking those Easter Hares were Rabbits. Scandalous. I've been a victim of false advertising. You can't even trust the Easter Bunny.

Speaking of personality when it comes to Red-tails, think about the differences among Pale Male , Junior, and Tristan. More on that to come.

Donegal Browne

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the questions you come up with! And -- you manage to get answers, from Blakeman and your own research.