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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Species Spotlight #14: Brush Rabbit

Last week, we highlighted that common rabbit of southern California, the Desert Cottontail. But like North Carolina, where we have the more common Eastern Cottontail but the rarely seen Marsh Rabbit, southern California has its own second, cryptic, and rarely seen species – the Brush Rabbit.

Unlike the Desert Cottontail, which inhabits the dry and sandy areas of San Diego, the Brush Rabbit is a specialized resident of the chaparral which lines the coastal cliffs that grade into the Pacific Ocean. While its xeric cousin is quite conspicuous, the Brush Rabbit prefers to skulk and hide in its habitat of scrub and sage, much like the Marsh Rabbit does around here. Even though we had decent pictures of these two rabbits, I still found identification difficult. I definitely felt I had two different species – this one lacked the rufous nape and seemed slighter than the Cottontail – but I couldn’t be sure, until I learned a little trick online. The Desert Cottontail will always show a black tip to the ears, while the Brush Rabbit shows none. Here, we can clearly see the lack of black-tipped ears, thus solidifying its identification.

This guy looks more like our cottontails, but is rather distantly related.

James and I found this particular Brush Rabbit at Cabrillo National Monument, as we watched birds at the famous location known as ‘The Drip’. While Black-headed Grosbeaks and Bell’s Vireos drank from the leaking faucet, this little guy fed among the dry leaf litter not feet from us, completely oblivious to our presence. Good for us, of course, but perhaps he should be more mindful of the local wildlife, like the California Whipsnake I found at this very location just a day later!


  1. Thanks..... I think...... now I'm tempted to go through all my rabbit pics and see if I have two species!

  2. Let me know if you need any help identifying the pics, now that I have a bit of experience with these confusing species.