Pygmy Rabbits

Pygmy Rabbit
Brachylagus idahoesis
Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Len Zeoli

Pygmy rabbits!! Sure, like there’s these little rabbits running around out there, and nobody’s seen them. Right!

Well pygmy rabbits do exist and they’re cute as a button. They are found living it up in sagebrush from Utah north into Idaho and west to California. They eat sagebrush year-round but to fight monotony, they add a few forbs and grasses during spring, summer and fall.

Pygmy rabbits look like cottontails, but different. There’s no conspicuous white fluff ball on their tail. The fur is more slate gray than the pale gray of the desert cottontail. The pygmy rabbit is dinky, with significantly smaller ears and weighing less than a pound. Pygmy rabbits favor dense stands of big sagebrush, sometimes near riparian areas. Based on Val Grant’s experience they can also be found in sparse sagebrush and well away from water.

These rabbits are not as easy to see as they are to identify by their sign: fecal pellets, browse patterns and mobility patterns in snow. When you’re out in sagebrush, check the ground under a sage plant. If you see small piles of pellets the size of BBs, you may be onto the wily pygmy. They dig burrows beneath the sage plants and frequently fresh pellets are found at the entrance. The sage branch tips will show distinct browsing on the new growth. In winter, launching pads used by pygmy rabbits are a sure way to identify their presence. Rather than frolic through the snow like cottontails and jackrabbits, leaving a distinct trail, these little guys leap from pad to pad when traveling across the snow during the winter. This adds skiers and snowshoers to the list of observers who should be on the lookout for these diminutive rabbits with a big appetite for sagebrush.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Len Zeoli

Text: Val Grant, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Pygmy Rabbit, The Rabbits Archive, http://www.rabbitsarchive.com/species/pygmy-rabbit.php

Pygmy rabbit pictures and facts, http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/mammals/Lagomorpha/Leporidae/Brachylagus/Brachylagus-idahoensis.html

Endangered Rabbit Beats the Odds, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, Washington State University, http://cahnrsnews.wsu.edu/2007/06/13/endangered-rabbit-beats-the-odds/

Pygmy rabbit, mondo adorable, L.A. Unleashed, LA Times Local, February 8, 2009, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/02/pygmy-rabbit.html

Pygmy Rabbits, Western Watersheds Project, http://www.westernwatersheds.org/wildlife/pygmy-rabbits

Short-tailed Bird of Perdition-Starlings

European Starling
Dr.Thomas G. Barnes, US Fish & Wildlife Service

I’ll bet you’ve always wanted to know about starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), whose Latin name speaks volumes. They’re noisy, gregarious, messy and are blamed for forcing many hole-nesting birds, bluebirds and flickers, even an occasional kestrel, out of their nests for fun and profit. For this the starlings plead “no contest.” They spread across the United States and Canada like the plague after their introduction into New York City’s Central Park in the late 1800’s, just so we unwashed Americans could have the joy of being able to associate, up close and personal, with all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. I think Pay Back by the Brits sums it up nicely, kind of like the Russians and cheat grass, halogeton, tamarisk and Russian thistle (tumbleweed).

So what can be said that could possibly redeem this rapid breeding invader whose short intestinal tract means they have to consume beaucoup amounts of food to survive? This is great during the summer when insects and creepy-crawlies are their favorite cuisine; it’s during the winter when man-produced food pellets meant for our livestock are like Quaker’s puffed rice or wheat, the digesta are “shot from guns”, another not so an endearing image of the starling. They cost feedlot owners and berry farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Imagine 100,000 and up to two million starlings descending on your holly orchard or your feedlot. Imagine them staying around for the winter. It’s not hard to imagine spreading Starlicide-treated pellets around your livestock.

Not to defend this image, especially after working with the little rounders for 14 years (six years with the Feds, eight years as a graduate research topic), but they showed me that I was working with quite an intelligent species. Observing these birds in the field, in large pens in Green Canyon and in Skinner boxes in the Experimental Psychology laboratory on USU’s campus, these birds made reasoned judgments concerning the food they ate, spatially and temporally learning to avoid poisoned food, teaching another the avoidance pattern they had learned, making decisions just like we do, thinking, learning from mistakes. We tried to eliminate them without success. We could try convincing them that eating at feedlots or orchards is a dangerous game and repel the little rounders. Whatever the case they are here to stay, but it would be nice if there weren’t quite so many.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Dr.Thomas G. Barnes, US Fish & Wildlife Service, http://digitalrepository.fws.gov/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/nctcdiglib&CISOPTR=593&CISOBOX=1&REC=8 Pubic Domain


Text: C. Val Grant, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Listen for this Bird:

Starlings as recorded by Kevin Colver of https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections and found on the Western Soundscape Archive at the University of Utah.

Additional Reading:

European Starling Identification:
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/European_Starling/id

National Invasive Species Information Center,
http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/animals/eurostarling.shtml

http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird_details.aspx?id=360

http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=sturvulg

Starlicide R.E.D Sheet

http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/2610fact.pdf