David L Ryan
Lately, it seems, the city of Boston has been overrun by a collection of entitled youngsters, occupying the trendiest neighborhoods, adhering to strict vegetarian diets, and fornicating at a rate that would make Hugh Hefner blush.
Yes, exactly: rabbits.
No matter where you look these days, you’re bound to spot these cotton-tailed city dwellers making themselves comfortable in the city’s backyards, pathways, and streets. In recent weeks alone, they’ve been spied hopping near grassy lots in Southie, hiding under cars in Somerville, and strutting past red-brick townhomes in the Back Bay. They can regularly be found canoodling in Cambridge.
“It seems like there’s always a bunny around,” says Michelle Kweder, a Harvard Law School employee and Somerville resident who insists she is no longer surprised when she stumbles upon one.
Whether there’s been an actual surge in the number of rabbits is difficult to determine; due in part to their short lifespans, keeping tabs on the number of wild rabbits in any region can be nearly impossible.
Anecdotally, though, there seems to be a rash of rabbit-human run-ins around town, and one theory is that it’s simply that time of year.
The mating season for cottontails stretches from March to September, says Marion Larson, information and education chief for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, and each spring — as residents and homeowners inevitably spend more time outdoors — they’re bound to run into what she calls the “very prolific rabbit.”
“It’s a seasonal phenomenon,” says Larson.
Still, the rabbit has found itself in the news from time to time. IIn 2015, for instance, the federal government removed the New England cottontail rabbit as a candidate for the list of endangered species. And some locals insist that the rabbits occupying their yards are more than temporary guests.
“These aren’t just random wanderers,” says John Byrne of Medford, who counted at least five or six rabbits during a recent bus commute to Somerville. “I can’t fairly call them tenants, because they don’t pay rent. But as far as they’re concerned, they’re home.”
They’ve become such a fixture during twice-daily walks with his dog, says Al Weisz, a Somerville-based architect and engineer, that he now notices when he doesn’t spot one.
“It’s the exception rather than the rule when I don’t see a rabbit,” he says.
But while the rabbits’ presence within city limits — and in the various surrounding suburbs — might seem curious, it’s not all that surprising.
For one thing, they don’t require much territory, according to Marj Rines, a naturalist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The two local rabbit species — New England cottontail and Eastern cottontail — can exist in a habitat as small as a half acre, she says, meaning that a single block of Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay would likely provide all the space and vegetation the small creatures would need.
For another thing, rabbits have developed something of a reputation for their rate of reproduction.
As Larson puts it: “When they say ‘breed like rabbits,’ it’s true.”
While some might worry about the bunnies’ penchant for mischief, others insist that concerns about the creatures have been overblown.
“In terms of the wildlife that we deal with, they’re relatively benign,” says Amanda Kennedy, director of animal care and control for the city of Boston. “And even the amount of damage they can do in your garden is typically less than what you’ll see for a skunk or squirrel.”
Which isn’t to say that they’re completely harmless.
“I was startled by one last weekend,” says Byrne. “I was doing some work in the yard, and there was a rabbit just sort of sitting on a dirt patch, kind of just blended right into the ground. I didn’t know it was there, and [then] he moved, and I just kind of recoiled a bit.”
Indeed, like squirrels before them, rabbits seem to be growing quite comfortable in the city’s streets.
“What’s surprising is how close me and my dog can get to it,” says Kweder. “This morning, the rabbit looked a little bit nervous, but also totally held her ground.”
For the most part, though, it has been a fairly peaceful cohabitation.
And despite their less-than-stellar reputations with gardens, the rabbits hordes have been kind enough to leave the city’s most prominent one unscathed.
“They’ve been all over Twitter, I’ve seen people posting pictures — but not us, unfortunately” says Susan Abell, director of communications and outreach for the Friends of the Public Garden.
“Or maybe,” she added, “fortunately.”
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