This is a hare-raising tale (NB: jackrabbits are not rabbits, but are hares). It all started late last winter when I noticed the tracks and feces of white-tailed jackrabbits by the bird feeder in our front yard. The big-footed visitors had hopped up the pile of snow around the base of the bird feeder and helped themselves to a meal of black-oil sunflower seeds. It turns out the seeds are extremely good for their winter coats.
It always gives me a thrill to see these large hares galumphing around the neighbourhood. What could I do to help them out and attract them to my yard? I decided to create habitat for them on my front boulevard. So last summer, I planted the area to potatoes to begin changing the soil. Then, I looked up what they like to eat in the wild in the summer to make sure they had what they needed from spring through fall as well. Prickly pear cactus turned out to be one of the desirables. I planted the cacti in full sun around the base of a tree where people wouldn’t step on it. Soon after planting, the cacti began disappearing, so I knew I was onto something. White-tailed jackrabbits have a hard pallet so the needles and thorns don’t bother them. I think the cactus is like watermelon for them.
The best way of attracting wildlife is to plant native vegetation such as grasses, wild strawberries, native flowers, and other plants that are natural to the area. Native plants have evolved over time to thrive in the local climate and soil conditions. By planting native vegetation, you are providing food and shelter for a variety of animals and insects. Water is another essential need for all wildlife. I have buried a shallow planting tray for water in a shady area and I refill it daily from spring to fall. I also built a small, shallow shelter at the spot and lined it with moss.
The City of Saskatoon website offers resources on different wild animals that might be encountered. One brochure they have features the white-tailed jackrabbit, find it here.
For some reason, the white-tailed jackrabbit has adapted well to cities, and is one of Saskatoon’s more common wild mammals. These adaptable creatures can be found in a variety of habitats. I like to think that wildlife in urban areas is as important as wildlife in the countryside, as animals are otherwise losing natural habitat where they can bed down, nest, find food and water. You can help rebuild biodiversity and keep Saskatoon Wild by providing simple habitats.
Habitat – Photo by Sandra Walker
This is the first stage in installing the jackrabbit habitat. After potato harvest, I began by moving things that were already in my yard. I also seeded the area in the fall and covered it with leaves for the winter. Next year it will be greener. I will post updates and maybe install a bunny cam aimed at the spot (with signage, of course!).
– Sandra Walker
Photo by Sandra Walker
Photo by Meghan Mickelson
Photo by Sandra Walker
Prints – Photo by Sandra Walker
Jackrabbits are not rabbits! They are hares.
Rabbits and Hares, although closely related, with both being in the family Leporidae, have some significant differences. Hares have longer ears, and are larger and faster than rabbits. Hares have larger thighs and feet, which contributes to their greater speed. While rabbits have their eyes on either side of their heads (making it easier for them to see what is beside and perhaps a bit behind them), hares have their eyes more to the side-front (making it easier to see where they are going so quickly!) Rabbits are likely to build burrows under the ground for birthing their young; this is necessary, since their young are born blind and bald, and take about a week to open their eyes and grow enough hair to protect themselves. Newborn hares, on the other hand, are born with their eyes open and with a good protective coating of hair (hairy hares). Parent hares thus only make a shallow nest in the ground for birthing their young. Two species of hares are common in our ecoregion: the white-tailed jackrabbit, which has taken up residency in our city, and the snowshoe hare, which rarely visits the city. A difference between the snowshoe hare and white-tailed jackrabbit is that the white-tailed jackrabbit is likely to have the tips and sides of its ears remain brown throughout the winter, whereas the snowshoe hare will turn completely white. A question worthy of study is why white-tailed jackrabbits have adapted to urban living, where snowshoe hares seem to avoid it.