A two-for-one deal: Volunteers help improve ‘rabbitat’

Cottontail rabbits are such a common sight in southern Michigan’s city parks, gardens and backyards that you may never think about where else they live or about the habitat they need beyond our neighborhoods.

But rabbits also live on public lands and state game areas, where, with a little help from humans, they benefit from improvements to the existing habitat. The brush piles that are built for them provide protection from predators and cold weather and occasionally serve as nesting sites.

Although the Michigan Department of Natural Resources actively manages habitat on public lands for other species, such as deer, birds and waterfowl, the habitat for rabbits – often called “rabbitat” – is most often improved as a result of other projects.

For instance, if invasive woody plants are cleared from grassland to improve pheasant habitat, or if trails are cleared to improve access in-state game areas, the brush piles needed for rabbitat can be built along the edges using the material that’s been removed.

“Rabbits are often managed while managing for other species. Brush pile construction links into almost any sort of habitat management,” said Adam Bump, small game specialist for the DNR.

In March 2018, a group of 12 volunteers worked on a project at the Dansville State Game Area that connected a forest road from the Hewes Lake DNR access lot to the lot at Seven Gables Road. The brush piles created also made for great rabbit habitat. Photo Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Nonhunters benefit too

Like other conservation projects in the state, the work that’s done benefits just about anyone who enjoys the outdoors. “If you’re a bird-watcher or just like nature in general, the brush piles are a cool thing to have because they’re valuable for other species,” Bump explained. Songbirds, including flycatchers, often use the brush piles as a place to perch. Reptiles, snakes, turtles and other small mammals also make use of them.

“Several times I have visited places where rabbit habitat projects have been done just to see what has visited the sites,” Reeves said. “Often rabbits are already using the brush piles within a week of the project. Later, song sparrows, brown thrashers, robins and other songbirds are also using them. It’s fun to be involved with projects like that.”