Rabbits at Crawfordsburn Country Park The rabbits at Crawfordsburn are particularly tame and are commonly seen in short grassy areas around woodland edges and hedgerows. The best times for rabbit watching are at dusk and dawn when they are most likely to be feeding. Try to position yourself under cover, downwind and be as quiet as possible. Keep a look out for black or grey rabbits. Usually these colours of rabbits are quickly picked off by predators because they are less well camouﬂaged than the usual brown rabbits. However, as there are not too many predators in the Country Park, they are quite frequently seen. WILD 004 2005 RABBITS History It is commonly believed that the Normans introduced wild rabbits into Britain, probably in the 12th Century. They were farmed in warrens and were considered such important sources of meat and fur that many warrens were marked on local maps. One such warren was situated in Bangor at the site of the Kinnegar? on the seafront and was marked “Coney Borrow” on a map by Thomas Raven in 1625, complete with drawings of rabbits. Another local warren was situated on the seafront at Kinnegar in Holywood. It is probable that escaped rabbits from warrens such as these gave rise to the wild rabbit Britain. of population They spread gradually throughout the country and, due to their taste for vegetables and crops, soon became regarded as serious agricultural pests. Myxomatosis of outbreak ﬁrst The myxomatosis occurred in 1953 in Britain and lead to the death of over 99% of all wild rabbits. It was caused by a virus which spread through the rabbit population on the mouthparts of the rabbit ﬂea. The most obvious systems of the disease were swellings around the eyes and ears of the rabbit. Death usually followed a few weeks later. Rabbit numbers have recovered somewhat from the devastating crash in 1953, but myxomatosis outbreaks still occur, particularly in the autumn, keeping the population in check. often use the same route from their burrows to their feeding ground, leaving a well worn path in the undergrowth. For further information contact: EHS Education Ofﬁcer, Commonwealth House, 35 Castle Street, Belfast BT1 1GU (028) 9054 6533 Web: www.ehsni.gov.uk/education/factsheets.shtml Environment & Heritage Service www.ehsni.gov.uk Predation Rabbits are a tasty meal to many predators such as foxes, dogs, cats, buzzards, owls, stoats, badgers and even man! Rabbits are under the greatest danger from predators when they are feeding, so for protection they usually feed in groups. Individuals in the group frequently sit upright and use their excellent senses of smell, sight and hearing to scan the surrounding area. If they detect danger they will thump on the ground with their hind legs to alert the other rabbits in the group, so they can all quickly retreat to the safety of their burrows. Be a Bunny Detective You do not need to actually see rabbits to know they are present in an area, they leave many clues: 1. Burrows – Look for burrows in hedgerows, on the edge of woodland or scrub, or in sand dunes. Burrow entrances are usually about 10 – 20 cms wide. 2. Latrines – Groups of rabbits often use the same small area to deposit droppings. This area is called a latrine. The droppings of each rabbit has its own distinctive smell, so that simply by snifﬁng the droppings at the latrine, rabbits can tell who has been using it recently. 3. Paths – Rabbits are creatures of habit and often use the same route from their burrows to their feeding ground, leaving a well worn path in the undergrowth. 4. Fur – Bits of hair can sometimes be seen where rabbits have brushed up against barbed wire or bushes. 5. Scrapes – Rabbits are territorial and will often mark out their territories by scraping a small horseshoe shaped area in the ground and depositing a few droppings in it. 6. Footprints – Rabbit footprints can sometimes be seen in mud or snow. Breeding Rabbits have a reputation for multiplying rapidly and rightly so! Each year a female can produce 4 - 6 litters, each containing 5 young. The pregnant female often digs a special burrow and makes a nest out of grass lined with fur plucked from her belly. The young are born blind and naked and suckle milk from their mother. After 3 - 4 weeks they leave the burrow and have to fend from themselves. These young rabbits are not familiar with the ways of the world and are easy picking for predators. About 90% of them will die from disease or predation in their ﬁrst year. 7. Feeding – Areas of close cropped grass at the edges of ﬁelds are good indicators of the presence of rabbits.
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