The Brush rabbit, also known as the western brush rabbit, is a cottontail rabbit that inhabits the western coastal areas of North America. It is smaller than a number of the other cottontails, unlike most of them, having a grey underside to its tail instead of white (which possibly is why it does not have “cottontail” in its common name). Its fur on the upper side varies from gray to light brown, and its underside is usually white.
Brush rabbits are found in North America’s western coastal regions (Mexico and United States), from the Columbia River of Oregon to the Baja California Peninsula’s southern tip. Its range goes as far to the east as the eastern parts of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade mountain ranges. This species inhabits dense, brushy cover, typically in chaparral vegetation. It occurs also in conifer and oak habitats and will live in grassland or brush, and create networks of runways throughout the vegetation. These rabbits hardly ever leave the brush for long periods of time.
A Brush rabbit is active year round and is mainly crepuscular. It comes out of its brush area after sunset, remaining active until very early in the morning. It hardly ever comes out in the afternoon, and is resting for most of that time. However, in nice weather, Brush rabbits can be seen basking in the sun. Brush rabbits are a gregarious species while foraging, but are mostly solitary. They live in individual home ranges, male home ranges being on average bigger than female home ranges. These animals are wary and secretive. They use burrows, tunnels, and runways - although not as much as others in their genus. When chased, Brush rabbits will climb trees and scrub. When frightened, their response is usually foot thumping, which may go on for several minutes. They let out squeals and cries when in pain or scared.
Brush rabbits are polygynous breeders. This means that one male mates with more than one female and they do not form pair bonds. In California the breeding season goes from December until May or June. In Oregon the season runs from February to August. Soon after giving birth, many of them breed again. Usually three litters are produced each year, with occasionally four. This species does not dig burrows or dens for themselves, but uses the burrows of other animals, or brush piles or forms. Gestation is for about 27 days, and litter sizes are usually 2 to 4. Young are born altricial, remaining for about 14 days in a covered and lined nest in the ground, opening their eyes on about the 10th day. Mothers come to feed their young at night. Young reach maturity when they are around 4 or 5 months old, and they are able to breed in the next breeding season.
Being hunted for food and new human settlements are a threat to this species, but the severity and extent are not known. The Riparian brush rabbit, a subspecies of the Brush rabbit, is considered endangered throughout its range. This subspecies lives in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Loss of natural habitat, disease and wildfire are factors that threaten their populations.
According to IUCN, the Brush rabbit is common and abundant throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. According to the IUCN Red List, there are about 300-600 Riparian brush rabbits (a subspecies of the Brush rabbit) in the South Delta (San Joaquin County, CA, USA). Overall, currently Brush rabbits are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today remain stable.
Brush rabbits serve as prey for the bobcats coyotes, gray foxes, weasels, and various raptors and snakes.