Longer days, the sweet smell of flowers and the gentle chirping of birds are all typical indicators of Spring in DC. In more recent years, wild rabbits have become yet another indicator of warmer weather. Usually accompanied by exclamations of ‘look, a bunny!’, followed by a pause and endearing sounds of awh, rabbit sightings have increased in and around the Wilson area.
Eastern cottontail rabbits (ECTs), the species of rabbit found in DC, are one of the most common rabbit species in North America. In the District, however, they are listed as a ‘Species of Greatest Conservation Need’ by City Wildlife, meaning they are an endangered species. City Wildlife is a DC organization dedicated towards wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
This doesn’t mean you haven’t been seeing more rabbits than usual. Paula Goldberg, the executive director of City Wildlife, said in an email, “As with all animal populations, there are fluctuations in numbers from season to season depending on food availability, predator populations [and] climate considerations.”
Goldberg also mentioned that while City Wildlife doesn’t track wild animal populations, and has not treated an unusually high number of ECTs this season, they have received a few calls about high numbers in Tenleytown and surrounding neighborhoods.
Wildlife Biologist Lindsay Rohrbaugh works for the District’s Fisheries and Wildlife Division. Rohrbaugh’s office is currently is currently working on a survey, which recruits volunteers from all eight wards to report sightings of ECTs, helping Rohrbaugh and her colleagues to determine abundance and distribution of rabbits throughout DC.
Rohrbaugh could not be reached for comment, but was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “Anecdotally, yes, I would say it seems to me that people are seeing more rabbits.” While the cause is not completely clear, Rohrbaugh credited this increase in part to general predator-prey interactions. “You have a high rabbit population one year, that’s more food for predators, then the rabbit population goes down. Until we get more data, I don’t know what we can say beyond that,” she said.
The Department of Energy & Environment is asking that citizens report all ECT spottings to their website, in order to help them gather population data. “Even though we have so many in and around Wilson, there are few ECTs in other areas of the city,” Goldberg said.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS