The diet of eastern cottontails is varied and largely dependent on availability. Eastern cottontails eat vegetation almost exclusively; arthropods have occasionally been found in pellets. Some studies list as many as 70 to 145 plant species in local diets. Food items include bark, twigs, leaves, fruit, buds, flowers, grass seeds, sedge fruits, and rush seeds. There is a preference for small material: branches, twigs, and stems up to 0.25 inch (0.6 cm). Leporids including eastern cottontails are coprophagous, producing two types of fecal pellets one of which is consumed. The redigestion of pellets greatly increases the nutritional value of dietary items.
In summer, eastern cottontails consume tender green herbaceous vegetation when it is available. In many areas Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratense) and Canada bluegrass (P. compressa) are important dietary components. Other favored species include clovers (Trifolium spp.) and crabgrasses (Digitaria spp.). In Connecticut important summer foods include clovers, alfalfa, timothy (Phleum pratense), bluegrasses (Poa spp.), quackgrass (Elytrigia repens), crabgrasses, redtop (Agrostis alba), ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), plantains (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Eastern cottontails also consume many domestic crops.
During the dormant season, or when green vegetation is covered with snow, eastern cottontails consume twigs, buds, and bark of woody vegetation. In Connecticut important winter foods include gray birch (Betula populifolia), red maple, and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).
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