Eastern Cottontail

Arguably the cutest animal featured in RTPI’s Meet Your Neighbor project is the Eastern Cottontail. Although very common in our area, it’s always great to see these little guys standing watchfully on the edge of fields. Despite their cute appearance, they actually fill an important role in the ecosystem as a food source for our larger predators. Combine this with a life span that is usually less than three years, and one can realize that these mammals have to struggle to survive and maintain their large population.

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An adorable Eastern Cottentail bunny photographed in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style by Twan Leenders.

As the name suggests, the Eastern Cottontail is present across the Eastern United States. The fur is mostly brown and grey, with a reddish patch around the shoulders. Both the fur around the nose and on the underside of the body is a lighter color. Of course, the underside of the tail is distinctly puffy and white. During the winter, the fur becomes more gray than brown, but otherwise remains similar to the summer coat.

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An Eastern Cottentail in some brush that would be a common habitat for this species. Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

The preferred habitat of the Eastern Cottontail are the borders between fields and woodlands. Here, they have access to a good food source, as well as cover from potential predation. Besides fields and woodlands, these rabbits also can make their homes in wetlands, thickets, and meadows. Eastern Cottontails eat a variety of plants, including grasses, clovers, fruits, vegetables, bark, and twigs.

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It’s a rough life being a rabbit. Eastern Cottentail and Red Fox photographed by Scott Kruitbosch.

The way that Eastern Cottontail populations are able to survive despite their high mortality rate is by having a high reproductive rate. Female Cottontails can have up to four litters of young each year, and each litter may have as many as nine babies! The babies leave the nest within seven weeks, and are able to mate within three months. This extremely high reproductive rate makes up for the fact that only about 15% of the young actually survive their first year.

Northern Leopard Frog

The Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) is one of many species that frequents New York’s grassland areas near ponds and marshes and can easily hide itself in the tall grasses during the summer months.

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An example of the Northern Leopard Frog photographed in the “Meet Your Neighbours” style by Twan Leenders.

Northern leopard frogs are so named for the array of irregularly shaped dark spots that adorn their backs and legs. They are greenish-brown in color with a pearly white underside, light-colored ridges on either side of their backs, and a white stripe on their upper lip. They are considered medium-sized frogs, reaching lengths of 3 to 5 inches, nose to rump. The Northern Leopard Frog’s rounded spots with light borders help to differentiate it from the Pickerel frog, which has square spots and bright orange or yellow on the inner part of their hind legs.

The Northern Leopard Frog is found throughout northern North America, except on the Pacific Coast. They generally live near ponds and marshes, but will often venture into well-covered grasslands as well, earning them their other common name, the meadow frog.

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Photographed by Elyse Henshaw

Northern leopard frog tadpoles and froglets are herbivores, feeding mostly on algae and other aquatic plants, which they scrape off submerged rocks and twigs with a rasping mouth. They grow rapidly and by late spring are about 1 inch long and begin to develop legs. These tadpoles metamorphose into frogs, and by early summer the small frogs leave the water to begin their life on land.

Not only can adult frogs can live out of water, but they can breathe through lungs as well (although they also obtain oxygen through their moist, thin skin). Furthermore, unlike tadpoles and froglets, adult Leopard frogs will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. They are known to eat beetles, ants, flies, worms, smaller frogs (including their own species), birds, and garter snakes.
During the winter Leopard frogs hibernate on the bottom of ponds. When winter ends, Northern leopard frogs are one of the first amphibians to emerge from hibernation in the spring and they are the first prolonged breeder to start calling.

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Photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

The Northern leopard frog is often difficult to hear because it does not call in large groups’ as do other frog species. Individual leopard frogs call from the edge of the water. The Northern leopard frog has a distinct mating call. The call is a deep rattling snore interspersed with clucking grunts that may be single or multiple syllables. The leopard frog call can also be described as the sound a finger rubbing against a balloon.

The habitat of the adult frog is the narrow zone between water and grassland. Furthermore, Northern leopard frogs have innumerable predators. Fish, large salamanders, snakes, raccoons, mink, skunks, bullfrogs, herons, and hawks all prey upon frogs. One adaptation that frogs like the Northern Leopard Frog have developed to avoid predation are powerful legs for swimming and jumping. Leopard frogs can leap an astonishing 5 to 6 feet in a zigzag pattern to avoid predators.

Black- Crowned Night-Heron

Black-Crowned Night-Heron

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Black-Crowned Night-Heron photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

Here we have a foraging Black-Crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), a long-legged wader of marshes, ponds, and wetlands, enjoying fresh, salt or brackish waters. They can be found across North America and are actually the most widespread heron in the world!  These spectacular herons have been spotted along the Chadakoin River here in Jamestown.

The Black-Crowned Night-Heron often spends its days perched on tree limbs or concealed among foliage and branches. During the evening and night the black-crowned night-heron forages in water, on mudflats, and on land.

Black-crowned Night-Herons are opportunists feeders that eat many kinds of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine animals. Their diet includes leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, clams, mussels, fish, amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles, rodents, birds, and eggs. They also eat carrion, plant materials, and even garbage from landfills.

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Black-Crowned Night-Heron Foraging For Food! photographed by Scott Kruitbosch

The Black-Crowned Night-Heron is a small stocky bird compared to many of their long-limbed heron relatives. They have thick necks, large, flat heads, and heavy, pointed bills.  The black-crowned night-heron has broad rounded wings and short legs, which in flight, barely reach the end of the tail.  During flight the black-crowned night-heron folds its head back against its shoulders almost making its neck disappear from view.

In the light of day adults are striking.  Adults are light-gray to white colored with red eyes and a neatly defined black back, black crown and all black bill.  Young immature black crowned night herons are brown with large white spots on the wings, blurry streaks on their underside, and have yellow-and-black bills.

These are social birds that tend to roost and nest in groups, although they typically forage on their own. The Black-Crowned Night-Heron will even nest in groups that include other species, like great blue and green herons, egrets, and ibises.

Interestingly, breeding Black-crowned Night-Heron will raise any chick that is placed in its nest. The herons apparently don’t distinguish between their own offspring and nestlings from other parents.  Another interesting behavior of black-crowned night heron’s is that the young Black-crowned Night-Herons leave the nest at the age of 1 month, but cannot fly until they are 6 weeks old.  They move through the vegetation on foot, joining up in foraging flocks at night.