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The eastern cottontail is chunky red-brown or gray-brown in appearance with large hind feet, long ears and a short fluffy white tail. Its underside fur is white. There is a rusty patch on the tail. Its appearance differs from that of a hare in that it has a brownish-gray coloring around the head and neck. The body is lighter color with a white underside on the tail. It has large brown eyes and large ears to see and listen for danger. 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.
Optimal eastern cottontail habitat includes open grassy areas, clearings, and old fields supporting abundant green grasses and herbs, with shrubs in the area or edges for cover. The essential components of eastern cottontail habitat are an abundance of well-distributed escape cover (dense shrubs) interspersed with more open foraging areas such as grasslands and pastures.