Black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) will eat almost any available green plant. Generally, jackrabbits eat more grasses and forbs (non-grass herbaceous flowering plants) in the spring and summer while shrubs form the bulk of their winter diet.
Recent heavy snows covered the ground, while daytime melt and bitter nights formed an icy cap over the snow. Although jackrabbits living away from the immediate area of our house could find non-deciduous shrubs, such as rabbitbush and sagebrush, to eat, close in, only deciduous trees and shrubs poked above the snow. There was nothing green available.
Being adaptable, these “house” jackrabbits survived the storms by eating the alfalfa in our hay barns. They would hop up to the hay bales and nibble away. Leonard and I also discovered evidence that the jackrabbits also enjoyed our domesticated trees and shrubs. The plum trees and lead plants took the worst of the damage as our jackrabbits gnawed the tender bark off of branches and chewed off tender shoots. (There were plenty of rabbit pellets to verify that jackrabbits were the culprits.) The photographs show the gnaw marks on plum branches and chewed lead plant shoots. Notice the slant cut on the lead plant twigs. This slant cut is characteristic of jackrabbits. A twig eaten by deer shows a more “pinched off” effect.
The plants will survive, as will the jackrabbits. We enjoy the jackrabbits and do not mind sharing our plants and hay.
The photographs were all taken on our property near Lookout CA (Modoc County).