All wild rabbits possess individual tastes, including individuals of the 13 cottontail rabbit species. But many cottontails will eat birdseed such as sunflower seeds, which are loaded with nutritious oil. If a homeowner fails to clean up spilled birdseed, cottontails and other wild animals will be attracted to sprouting seed as well as the seeds themselves.
Cottontails eat by browsing, or eating a little of whatever plant material they can get a hold of, including grasses, flowers, leaves, bark, vegetables, fruits, sprouts and even wicker baskets. But they generally prefer fruits, vegetables and fresh flowers to seeds. Favorite foods include dandelions, clover, goldenrod, grapes and apples. Wild rabbits eat as quickly as they can from whatever food source they can find to store up fat for lean times.
Cottontail rabbits eat not only spilled birdseed but fresh seed off of tables set for ground-feeding birds such as doves and quail. Rabbits may eat so much of the birdseed that the birds don't get any. Cottontails also damage yards and gardens by eating any greenery, including stripping the bark off of trees. Snakes, coyotes, owls, hawks, crows, raccoons and foxes prey on adult and baby cottontails. They'll enter a yard or garden housing wild rabbits to hunt them, and some of these predators, such as hawks, will also prey on birds.
Discourage cottontail rabbits from making a home in a yard or garden by cleaning up any spilled birdseed daily, mowing lawns to make grass too short for the rabbits to hide in and setting up fences around bird feeders near the ground. The book "Squirrel Wars" recommends using a chicken wire or hardwire cloth fence at least 2 feet high and driven at least 6 inches underneath the soil. If the fencing isn't placed that deeply underground, cottontail rabbits will dig under fences to get tasty treats such as sunflower seeds. Use 1/4-inch or smaller mesh, notes Mass Audubon, the Audubon Society chapter in the state of Massachusetts.
Never feed wild cottontail rabbits birdseed by hand, no matter how cute and friendly the rabbits look. Rabbits will bite or scratch when frightened. Cottontails carry diseases such as rabies that humans can catch. Also, if a wild rabbit sees one human as a food source, then it may go fearlessly up to other, less friendly, humans seeking a seed treat and instead get killed.