Friday, June 29, 2018

A New Environmental Challenge for Seattle: RABBITS!

There is much talk in the Seattle media of invading hordes changing the nature of Seattle, with Amazon employees and homeless folks being the most frequently mentioned.

But the Seattle media has chosen to ignore an invasion that has become increasingly serious during the past year:

The appearance of huge numbers of bunnies around the city.



Cute, fluffy creatures that are eating their way through Seattle's vegetable gardens and lawns.

I bike to work each day along the Burke-Gilman trail.  Before this year I never saw bunnies...now I see at least a half dozen each morning.

Bunny in Seattle's Magnuson Park

One of my favorite activities is to run or walk through Magnuson Park with my little dog, Abby.  On Sunday, I counted 22 bunnies.   My dog is very excited to see the rabbits... but don't worry she is on a leash and can't give chase.

Rabbits are outside my house every morning, lazily munching on my lawn.  That's fine....less mowing for me.

But now they have gone too far....last week I found a fat bunny munching the lettuce in my vegetable garden.    I purchased plastic fencing to stop them to no avail....yesterday one snuck in through a small gap.   My lettuce was half eaten!

My vegetable garden after being visited by a hungry rabbit
I do worry that I am turning into a modern version of Elmer Fudd, hunting the hated Wabbit!  And if you remember from the cartoon, the Wabbit always won.


Early Sunday morning, driving out of my neighborhood, a rabbit dashed out in front of my car.  I was sure that I hit it, but miraculously it escaped.  I was shaken.

Some neighborhoods in Seattle have had rabbit issues before, such as the infestation around Greenlake circa 2005.   But one way or the other, the rabbit population waned.

And who could forget the Redmond/Microsoft bunny crisis of 1998, when nearly 1000 bunnies spread over the well-cared lawns of Microsoft and other Overlake businesses.   There was even a Redmond Rabbit Coalition.


But this time, here in Seattle, something is different.  Seattle's rabbit population is clearly growing exponentially to levels not seen before.  There are clearly thousands of bunnies.

But why?   Did a lot of people dump their pet rabbits in local parks?    The effects of global warming?  (very doubtful)

Has the local coyote population gotten lazy or decided they prefer fat pet cats who don't offer as much of a chase?  And what about our resident eagle population?  Not on the job.

Seattle coyotes appear to be lazy or now prefer cats
Well, I won't speculate any more....but those wabbits going into my vegetable garden better watch out!




47 comments:

jayemarr said...

When you run out of Bugs Bunny cartoons, I highly recommend Caddyshack. Good luck with those wabbits.

Raport said...

We build fenced raised vegetable beds to keep the rabbits out, so of course that's where they made their nests over the winter.

Kate said...

Here on the north end of Bainbridge Island, it's the same - 15 years in our rural setting without seeing a single rabbit in the neighborhood, suddenly this spring we're seeing several every day. I've wondered if our coyote population was down, since I usually see or hear them often but now, no sign of a coyote for a few months.

Bovinity said...

Caddyshack has a gopher.

RLL said...

Three foot chicken wire, be sure to tuck it so rabbits can not go under it. Fencing staples work well for this.

Andy said...

There are so many of the little critters. They've been breeding like....well, you know. I'm going with the lazy coyote theory.

Ansel said...

Perhaps it's global warming! No, just kidding. But the recent mild winters might have something to do with it. Or perhaps increased taboo on letting dogs roam.

I have noticed the problem too. Two species of annuals that I planted in my back yard completely disappeared.

Melissa Fleming said...

We have also had a dramatic native bunny increase over here near Indianola. In 20 years I'd never seen rabbits in our yard before this winter/spring. Interestingly we've also started seeing a variety of domestic rabbits coming through in recent weeks. Note they are larger, fluffier and come in more than just the 'agouti' (individual hairs in dark and light colors)wild rabbit color (domestic are usually more solid looking colors or patterned), so you should be able to distinguish feral from native. And they shouldn't interbreed.

jeff said...

Lots of bunnies in Issaquah too. They are all over our neighborhood now and last summer I only noticed a couple. Huge increase recently

Wedgwood Canuck said...

Starting to feel like Mr McGregor of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter) fame. The dog shows interest in the chase, but alas gets distracted as she spots a tennis ball in the lawn. Rabbit shows no fear. Can they be trained to eat English Ivy and European Broom? ;-)

Anon the Great said...

Well, I say let slip your Dog of War (or maybe your Puppy of the Couch) and allow it to chase and harass your local Leporidae enough to lower their birthrates.

John Marshall said...

If they make it into my fenced backyard, my three Labs will have another sport to keep them busy. Instead of chasing (and never catching) the native squirrels, who know exactly how far to come down the tree trunk and wave their tails at the dogs.

I figure the rabbits will learn quickly enough that eating my plants comes with consequences.

But alas, I haven't seen any increase in bunnies out here on the North Olympic Peninsula yet. Maybe we need a dedicated bunny lane on the Hood Canal floating bridge to get them migrating this way. I don't expect bunnies to swim the Canal.

As far as coyotes, which others have mentioned, we always used to be surrounded by them with several dens near my property. Last two years... nada. Hardly ever hear them. Big change. I figured neighborhood dogs put pressure on them when they are out and around. But if that's being seen other places, there may be other reasons.

It would be presumptuous at this point to connect the Coyote Down to the Bunny Up, but it makes me wonder. Maybe once the bunny population hits a certain level, then they reproduce like, well, you know...

Unknown said...

remember when traps were set in Redmond, and they were all neutered?

Eric Blair said...

It may not only be a case of reduced coyote populations, but also weasels and other smaller predators as well. Weasels are tiny, but routinely take town much larger prey like rabbits. Sooner or later the predator to prey ratio will balance out.

Rabbits' Guy said...

We have kept domestic house rabbits in the past and provided outside runs for them. As RLL mentioned, 3 ft. chicken wire, well tucked and reinforced mostly worked - except we discovered that there are a few "4 - ft." rabbits too!!!

Thomas Kelly said...

I've been observing and trying to understand this for the past few years due to my volunteer work on park land and familiarity with the area between the ship canal and Magnuson Park.

These are eastern cottontail rabbits. They have been in the state since the 1930's but to my knowledge were not seen in northeast Seattle until about 4 or 5 years ago.

Before that we often had some domestic rabbits probably discarded by irresponsible folks after Easter season in many or most years. Most of those didn't last long although for a while there was a dense population near the Woodland Park/Green Lake border which many people fed. The Park Department eventually gathered those up and sent them to bunnie farms similar to the Wallace an Grommit Curse of the Were-Rabbit Cartoon movie.

There is a good chance that someone released the Eastern Cottontails in the Union Bay Natural area. They became first became noticeable there about four or five years ago and seemed to spread from there through Laurelhurst and probably via the Burke-Gilman Trail.

By about three years ago they became noticeable in the Magnuson Community Garden P-patch located along the NOAA fence line in Magnuson Park.

By two years ago they had become quite noticeable elsewhere in Magnuson and were often damaging new reforestation plantings in autumn and winter.

Since then they have been spreading farther out on up to and by now beyond Meadowbrook ponds and also westward through northeast Seattle Neighborhood to the Wedgewood P-patch by last year and by now they are common elsewhere in Wedgwood and View Ridge. Although it seems I-5 might be a barrier one person has told me of a sighting in Broadview.

Although I'm not sure how they got across the ship canal I've also heard they are down the east side of Seattle as far as I-90.

Although I suspect they didn't travel to Northeast Seattle on their own from the east side of the lake or vice versa, there are populations on the east side at least in Kirkland. I've also been told they are on Mercer Island.

The level at which the population may stabilize and how much predators like coyotes, birds of prey, and domestic animals will affect it remains to be seen. Disease such as tularemia might also have an impact. Maybe the population will crash or maybe seeing 22 rabbits on a walk is the new normal.

The rabbits are cute, but are trouble for gardeners or those trying to reforest with young many species such as cedars, dull Oregon grape, service berry, sword fern, Garry oak, and more. Protecting plants with fencing or barriers or using repellents can help but add costs and require increased labor.

Steve Lalley said...

I've lived outside of Mill Creek for 26 years and always had rabbits but the population would cycle up and down. However, this past year it has only gone up. I keep expecting the population to tail off but that hasn't happened.

Ignado said...

When I was a kid, my dad would take us to San Juan island to hunt rabbits, open year round due to over population. My pasture in Enumclaw is full and a favorite of the Eagles, those I never saw until a few years ago.

Mr cyote needs to order an Acme rabbit trap with his Amazon Prime account...

The Norm said...

We've seen our first rabbit this year I. West Seattle! Ugh!

John Bower said...

and in bellingham we have noticed more rabbits in more places than ever before - it's the talk of the town (of course, it is the "city of subdued excitement." Warmer winters = more rabbits? Seems like a possibility.

sunsnow12 said...

Have to add this: we were walking the UW Urban Horticulture (Wahkiakum) trail late this afternoon and saw multiple rabbits - more than we have seen before.

But here's the kicker: as we approached the rise about midway through, there was a healthy, large coyote standing in the trail. Not the first time we have seen one there but this one was well fed, not your typical scrawny coyote... felt like we were standing in the middle of the food chain!

AndrewM said...

More rabbits by far over the past just N of Suquamish.

Unknown said...

In south Bellevue, the same, no more coyotes in the greenbelt, lots and lots of bunnies. Also I haven't heard many red-tailed hawks lately, they have been common until recently.

carlbuick said...

Ignado said that the eagles get some of the rabbits. Eagles mostly subsist on fish. They do have very large wing spread and are more of a soaring bird than smaller hawks and falcons. An open field or wide beach is probably the only way that they can catch a rabbit on the ground.

jayemarr said...

Proliferation of well-fed coyotes is not good news for people with indoor/outdoor cats. Particularly when the rabbit population does reach equilibrium. We have definitely seen expansion (or restoration) of coyote habitat here in Edmonds, but I haven't noticed an explosion in rabbit population up here yet. Maybe the coyotes are eating them as fast as they show up so far.

Unknown said...

Tremendous problem up here in Whatcom County with this invasive species from the Eastern USA. They devastate young conifers and other native plants.

Dan McShane said...

Eric Blair mentioned weasels and I will confirm that they have held our rabbit population in check. They strike very fast with a fatal single bite and then come back to haul the rabbit away. They are far more effective than coyotes or foxes both of which prefer other prey.

Sue Willard said...

Here's to the coyotes, the bobcats (they're there, but you'll never see them), the hawks, the eagles, the weasels, all the predators.

Hope people have their prey pets (rabbits, cats, small dogs, birds) protected so predators can rise to the occasion. Well-fed predators will raise more offspring.

Hurray for the predators! Enjoy the songs of the coyotes as they yip for joy.

We've always enjoyed the songs emerging from a nearby denning area. Although not after our bedtime . We've actually told them to "shut up" in the late evening (after maybe 10 or 11), and they co-operated ~ moving away from the house or just stopping.

We welcome them all. They do yeoman-like work for the environment, and the urban/suburban/rural environment needs them.

Bruce Kay said...

My recommendation is pay no real attention to the incrementally increasing rabbit population and assorted inconveniences associated.

Until it becomes catastrophic. After all, why get all excited and inclined to invest in mitigation....

without clear and absolute proof that such a thing is needed, which only the arrival of catastrophe will demonstrate with adequate certainty?




"Hey farmer! When you gonna fix that leakin' roof?
Ah stranger, when it's a rainin' it's too wet to fix it and when it's dry it's just as good as any mans house."

Lyrics from "Arkansas Traveller" ~ Michelle Shocked

Zathras said...

We never had rabbits before this spring--and then our cat started showing up with bunnies. That got me thinking about fleas. I have a relative who lives in Eastern Washington who contracted a rare cases of tularemia a few years ago.

We have started treating our cats monthly for fleas. Here is some stuff about diseases and rats and rabbits from King County:

https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/communicable-diseases/zoonotic/facts-resources/diseases-by-animal/pocket-pets.aspx

Larry Hubbell said...

Cliff,

The eradication of coyotes near UBNA may have contributed to the bunny explosion, not to mention all the wonderful bunny food planted during the 520 remediation. I guess we will see how fast coyotes can reproduce. Fingers crossed.

Larry

sldulin said...

I live in E King County adjacent to State Forest land and we have healthy populations of a variety of bunny predators- cougar, bobcat, coyote, hawks & owls. It is not a question of insufficient or unmotivated predators, there are just a LOT of bunnies the last few years. Predator species are responding- I hear owls every single night and every day and not just one or two but a lot of owls. They just can't keep up. I remember 20 years or so ago the possum population exploded, and before that it was Canadian geese... eventually an equilibrium will be restored but exactly how is rather mysterious.

J Schmitt said...

50-60% fish, but they gladly eat birds and small mammals. We routinely see them hunting in our neighborhood. Chickens and rabbits are favorites. https://www.nationaleaglecenter.org/eagle-diet-feeding/

Hiker Dude said...

Why waste them on coyotes? They are actually quite tasty - better than lettuce. I can send you a few recipes if you like.

MrBinkynator said...

This is a situation straight out of Biology 100. Google "predator prey graph."

Every coyote pup, eaglet, and owlet in Magnuson Park is not going to just survive this year but is going to grow fat produce many offspring of its own.

But yeah, bunnies everywhere!

Sempervirens206 said...

Lived in Seattle my entire life. Never saw rabbits until 2005 near Green Lake. Then didn't see anymore until about 2014 in SODO where I garden. Rabbits were munching the green shoots of native bulbs like Camas and Tritelia. They stuck around off and on through about 2016 or 2017. This year no sign of SODO rabbits, which is a relief for this gardener. But a week ago I saw my first rabbit on Capitol Hill. It was near 13th AVE/Howell and looked rather thin.

Unknown said...

I've been riding my bike to work on the eastside for 26 years. Always a few brown rabbits. Last year was the most I'd seen, and this year, even more. Fewer opossums these days.

Patrick said...

Lots of bunnies in and near Ravenna Park and the north end of the UW campus.

Do you suppose Friends of Campus Cats near-elimination of feral cats on the UW campus has allowed the rabbit population to increase?

ghill said...

I've lived in Edmonds for 15 yrs - have never seen rabbits in my yard until this summer!

Roberta Gregory said...

There is a thriving bunny population living in and around Pratt Park (E Yesler Way and 20th) for over a year. Some look more like pet bunnies than wild ones, one is a pretty golden brown color and seems pretty used to humans... it lets me get pretty close before scampering off.

Lars Halstrom said...

They are rabbits seen on the Alki bike trail too in the early mornings eating the parks grass. Eagles in area too.

Michele said...

Well they’re heading your way. We’re seeing them in Shoreline... and quite a few in Kenmore too.

Sabrina said...

I first started seeing the rabbits two summers ago on the peninsula near Poulsbo, where I was spending many weekends, and had assumed it was a local phenomenon. A few months later, I started seeing them in Seattle near the I-90 lid parks, and their presence has increased exponentially. By my observation, the rabbit explosion didn't start in Seattle, but is part of something regional.

carlbuick said...

Sabrina has made a point that I would have made. Perhaps Dr. Mass could check with one of his UW colleagues in the field of ecology, wildlife, or biology to find out what's really going on. And, is this localized to just western WA, or the whole west coast. (I'm not seeing this in the more dry areas of eastern WA.)

Rose Doctor said...

Down here in the Olympia area we began seeing rabbits about 4-5 years ago. As a trained wildlife biologist I anticipated that their population would wane as predator populations began to build up. But so far this hasn't happened. The good news is that they are easily trapped with a live trap and a few apple slices. What to do with them then is up to you.

Tom Forbes said...

They are on the south end too. I've been seeing a few rabbits here and there at the Jose Rizal Park overlook for years but never in my own yard a couple miles further south on Beacon Hill, until this spring.

I started noticing one in my backyard a few months ago and I've recently spotted a second so I am anticipating plenty more showing up soon. I am decently observant when it comes to the local wildlife. I encounter raccoons and opossums regularly but never rabbits in the immediate area until this year. Curious!

Does anyone know if they will eat/harm Japanese maples? I'm not sure if it is related to the rabbit arrival but I have one in the backyard that had done great until this year and now has many dead branches especially lower down in rabbit range.

Gine Oquendo said...

We love Rabbits and I agree that nowadays here in Seattle it's very seldom to see them. But in our community, we still have a bunny and recently one of our bunnies died and ask for help in pet cremation seattle for giving our bunny a final arrangement. Keeping the bunny is less maintaining pet and playing with them after work is very relaxing.