The very wet start to spring this year has even outdone that of last year and many blocks have been too wet to work from the quad bike right up until the past week or two.
Rest assured, rabbits will be making up for lost time and new young will soon be appearing all over the place. It’s always great to start a new season and meet lots of new clients and check out lots of new land but after a month of being virtually “rained in” I’m now expecting a lot of, “we needed you here yesterday” type calls.
Rabbits breed pretty much all year round in the Auckland region but it is markedly slower in winter giving most people a bit of a break from the constant damage caused by these guys.
With the onset of spring, rabbits start an incredible recovery process with an endless cycle of producing and raising new young at an amazing rate.
What’s more, the rabbit society is seriously matriarchal with the does (females) both in charge of, and responsible for, pretty much everything (must sound familiar to all you mums out there) from digging new homes to training their young; and all the while she is pretty much constantly pregnant.
Rabbit gestation is around 30 days and the new young open their eyes for the first time at seven days. Twenty days after birth those new babies are ready to start leaving the burrow and when you consider that the doe usually falls pregnant again within hours of giving birth, it’s not hard to see why they are one of the most successful animals on the planet.
This cycle means each doe produces an average of 42-48 new young every 12 months, simply amazing. When the new kittens are born, the doe will settle them in a short breeding burrow (called a ‘stop’) lined with dry grass and fur she has plucked from her belly. She then covers this hole perfectly with loose soil to protect the young and keep them warm.
The doe digs back in every few hours to feed her young repeating the careful cover-up each time she leaves. Loose soil spread over a small area is often the only indication you will get that breeding is underway.
If you dig gently into that soil you will find its covering the entrance to one of these breeding stops and about 30 centimetres in will be the new kittens.
I marvel at how the doe manages to cover the entrance without all that dirt falling in; it’s really very clever.
At 20 days the new young will move into the main “family” burrows and the females among them start the process of taking charge and getting ready to be mums themselves.
At just three months old they make their first attempts at breeding and by five months, they are generally quite experienced mums starting to produce two, four or five kittens at a time.
As you can imagine this sort of increase puts pressure on accommodation and expansion of rabbit populations can be very rapid. All the digging you see out there is done by rabbits looking to build new homes and they are very good at it.
As with everything in rabbit society, this is all done by females with the bucks (males) doing little more than look for the next young gal to get “in the family way” – what a life!
So, while you are out on your land waiting for me to show up and sort your bunnies out, take some time to watch them, it’s fascinating stuff and a true marvel of the animal kingdom….err, queendom.
By Ditch Keeling, Coastal Pest Solutions