When I asked readers to send me photos they’d taken of animals (I’ll take plants, too!), I didn’t expect such a big response. I have about seven really great emails with pictures, and will put up the photos in the next couple of weeks. I wanted to show this one first because the story behind it is so touching. It’s about reader Dave Ricks and a cottontail rabbit (this is probably Sylvilagus floridanus, the Eastern cottontail).
Dave’s photo and backstory (click the photo to enlarge, click again to make it really big):
A few summers ago, I took this photo of a cottontail doe in my backyard. She was cleverly sunning herself under a hole in a hedge that let the sunlight through.
My camera was a little Sony DSC-T30 point-and-shoot shirt-pocket camera. Getting a good light level was tricky, since the camera meters automatically. My subject was patient while I figured out a way to do it. I set the camera to meter the light on the center of the image, and I swung the camera left and right, between the background being dark and her being bright. As this made the whole image get lighter and darker, I took a few photos to catch a decent overall level. She’s not exactly in the center of the photo because of that.
For me to be this close for this photo, I had built a relationship with her that spring and summer by spending time around her physically. I would talk to myself so she knew I wasn’t a predator stalking her, and I would keep my hips and shoulders pointed away from her. The afternoon when I moved this close for this photo, I could tell when she was feeling comfortable when she let her eyes squint for the sun and she let her body relax and her hips poke up through her fur. But she still has one ear rotated toward me, and her other ear rotated behind her.
This was the first cottontail I had a relationship with. Sometimes she would walk right up to me,which would totally freak me out, so my photos of those encounters are off-center and blurry! By the way, I never fed her, so her attraction to me was purely social and playful.
I knew her for two years as an adult, so I imagine she lived three years total. She raised at least one litter, outside my bedroom window the spring after this summer photo.
I played trumpet for her once. While she was facing me, I moved my trumpet to my face and played a single note softly, then I moved the trumpet away. She stopped and paid attention. Then I played a simple scale of notes separated by me putting the trumpet to my face for each note and pulling the trumpet away after each note so she could see the sound she was hearing was me using the trumpet. She didn’t get tense like it was scary, just a new experience. When I was done, she went back to what she was doing.
In my experience, cottontails are social and curious, so they can feel attracted to us, and I believe they enjoy the sounds of our voices talking. But their personalities vary, and of course they’re always being watchful about being cornered or caught, so I’ve only had one other relationship with a cottontail this trusting and friendly with me.
I feel lucky I knew her. Our time together was an experience I can’t reproduce—I treasure it for what it was.