Gardeners and hares can co-exist

When a Snowshoe Hare turned up at Ellis Bird Farm last fall, we wondered what might happen to the trees and shrubs over the winter. But little damage was done, so our very patient and animal-loving gardener, Cynthia Pohl, decided this spring that the hare and its new mate could stay.

LEFT: There is nothing quite as cute as a baby bunny. The first litter of the year is usually born in May. Litters of three or four are most common

LEFT: There is nothing quite as cute as a baby bunny. The first litter of the year is usually born in May. Litters of three or four are most common

When a Snowshoe Hare turned up at Ellis Bird Farm last fall, we wondered what might happen to the trees and shrubs over the winter. But little damage was done, so our very patient and animal-loving gardener, Cynthia Pohl, decided this spring that the hare and its new mate could stay.

Thanks to Cynthia’s tolerance (some replanting was necessary) and gardening skills (choosing hare-resistant plants and using hare deterrent sprays), our gardens remained beautiful and the hares were happy.

We knew that the hares had settled in when we found four newborn bunnies (leverets) in early August.

Hares typically follow a 10-year population cycle so the appearance of this first breeding pair at EBF is an indication that populations must be on the upswing.

Hopefully our Great Horned Owls, efficient hare predators, will help keep their numbers in check.

The Snowshoe Hare is one of our two Alberta hare species. The other is the White-tailed Jackrabbit.

The only true rabbit in the province is the diminutive Mountain Cottontail, which is not found in the mountains but rather in the arid eastern and southern regions of the province.

White-tailed Jackrabbits tend to frequent open areas (and cities) while Snowshoe Hares are more common where there is forest cover. Although these mammals have a penchant for breeding and eating garden plants, they have remarkable adaptations and they play an important role in the ecosystem.

Myrna Pearman is the biologist at Ellis Bird Farm. She can be reached at mpearman@ellisbirdfarm.ca

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