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Iowa Jackrabbit Study


Life Member

From the Iowa DNR:


First of its Kind Iowa Jackrabbit Study IS a Big Harey Deal

story and photos by Lowell Washburn
Posted: February 2, 2010

AMES - A first of its kind, Iowa wildlife study is literally becoming one big, harey deal.

A cooperative joint venture between Iowa DNR and Iowa State University, the study's focus is to capture and install radio transmitters on white-tailed jackrabbits living at ISU's Agricultural Research Farm. Scientists hope future radio monitoring will enable researchers to collect long term data regarding the survival, habitat use, spacing, reproduction, and nocturnal movements of the state's only species of wild hare. Amazingly abundant during the 1950s and 1960s, jackrabbit numbers have shown a steady and alarming decline during the past four decades. Today, they have nearly vanished from the state.

"Capturing live jackrabbits for the study has presented an extraordinary challenge," says DNR Wildlife Technician, Mark McInroy. "Lately, we have gotten a few good breaks though. Recent cold weather has actually boosted our success as jackrabbits become more willing to visit the piles of corn we're using as bait. Once they come in and begin feeding, we attempt to capture the animals with remote controlled drop nets. We've tested a lot of different capture methods, and the drop nets are the most effective technique we've tried so far."

Rarely active during the day, jackrabbits are highly nocturnal creatures of the night. Successful capture requires late hours in the field. And with nighttime temperatures routinely dropping to minus double digits, thick mittens and multiple layers of thermal clothing are a must.

"Although we collect weights, measurements, and DNA samples from every jackrabbit we can put our hands on, our main emphasis is on the capture of females," notes McInroy. "Females have the potential to yield the greatest amounts of data and, as they begin to produce young this spring, they are also the ones who can lead us to more samples. Once the radio transmitters allow us to accurately pinpoint nest sites we'll quickly move in on the babies which, for the first day or two, are much more vulnerable to capture. If we're successful, the young will also be marked --- not with collars but rather with tiny lightweight ear tag transmitters. By marking day-old youngsters at the nest, we hope to significantly expand our data collection."

"Right now there is a lot that we don't know about Iowa jackrabbits; a lot we don't know about the basic life history characteristics of these animals," says Maggie Brandenburg, a student researcher with the ISU Department of Natural Resource Ecology. Brandenburg is simultaneously conducting an independent companion study of the Ames jackrabbits.

"Next spring, we'll be following the radio collared females to see where they travel, what habitats they use, how those habitats are connected, how big their home range is and what kind of habitats a female selects when rearing her young," says Brandenburg. "We'll also be looking at how many litters a female produces during a season and how many young are produced in each litter."

"I think the DNA sampling is another very important component to understanding what's really going on with this species," adds McInroy. "We know that we still have several pockets, or island populations, of white-tailed jackrabbits scattered across the state. At this point, we assume that these populations are totally isolated from others and that inbreeding is occurring. If so, it's not a good situation. But if we discover that populations are mixing, then that would be a very pleasant surprise. By looking at DNA we can go from guessing to knowing."

"We're looking at a lot of different things," says Brandenburg. "Our hope is to find something that will keep jackrabbits from disappearing in Iowa."

Note: Iowa's first of its kind, jackrabbit research study will be showcased in the May-June issue of Iowa Outdoors Magazine, the DNR's flagship publication of conservation and recreation. Visit the magazine on line at www.iowadnr.gov/magazine/.


Active Member
From what I have been told the airport in Spencer has a pile of them. According to the guys up there if you drive by there in the Summer you will see them out feeding. Not sure if it is true or not but I don't know why they would lie to me either. :)


Life Member
Back in the mid-sixties I was the eldest of seven kids. There was very little money in my parent’s home.

My father rarely went hunting, but I did. We ate a bunch of jack rabbits and were glad to have them. Not bad table fare if cooked right.



Well-Known Member
Those rascals are tough to catch! I was fortunate enough to play a small role in the research for a class and we were able to successfully capture a few and perform the necessary tasks, including attach a radio collar. BrewCrew and I also went spotlighting for them one night and saw a couple dozen, if I remember correctly.

This winter will almost certainly take a toll on them but I talked to a student researcher the other day who'd seen several and captured 3 on a bait site.


PMA Member
From what I have been told the airport in Spencer has a pile of them. According to the guys up there if you drive by there in the Summer you will see them out feeding. Not sure if it is true or not but I don't know why they would lie to me either. :)

Drive by that airport many times a year on the way to my mom's place in Spencer, and I've not seen one in that area. Not saying there aren't a few around, because I'm sure there are, but not so many to where they're easy to see. I did see the first one I've seen around here in several years just this past week, but it was 20 miles from the Spencer airport.



Life Member
I wonder how many piles of feral cat, coyote, bobcat and even moutain lion poop will have transmitters in it.

The 'Bonker


I went spotlighting on the research farm where Danny Boy and BrewCrew went nut the year before and we saw 20 some in an hour...first ones I'd seen. From what I understand golf courses and airports are the about the only places left to find them because of the often mowed short grass. The Iowa State Research farm also has plenty of oats and other crops which disappeared with the growing monoculture.

mike thalman

New Member
Jacks in Iowa

I started researching the Jackrabbit pops in Iowa around 2002. Mainly the John Deere plant in Ankeny and the ISU Ag farm West of Ames. The population at the JD Plant in Ankeny in 02 was 17. Now 0...Due to development and in-breeding. The Ag farm my highest spotlight count was 56. But as of now it's hard to get a count any higher then 15. Storm Lake Airport I can drive the runways at night and currently estimate the pop around 30-40. Spencer airport 50- 60, Waterloo 30-40. Corn and coyotes are the main problem. The future is NOT bright until farmers start using a method of farming which allows the jacks to have some open areas to see and run from predators.


I see a couple around my place regularly (Grundy County). I see them around 11 pm on a gravel road near my house and when the crops are out they are out in the daylight. There are usually 3 or 4 in the field directly next to where I see them on the road. They almost look like a coyote way out there!


Active Member
When we finished our part of the study, one of our strongest guesses (Kilburg's) was that the population decline had something to do with the decline in crop diversity. In the mid 60s as Blake stated every farm family had large gardens and many smaller fields of a variety of crops. As we have grown with technology our field sizes have become larger, the seperations between between fields are smaller and the diverse habitat that jack rabbits seem to be accustomed to survive have diminished into only a select few areas, like the ISU research farms. I have a feeling that as long as corn and bean prices are high, the diverse habitat that creates more open areas is not going to change much.

Dannyboy and I spotlighted ~20 a night but I believe the years before they were finding 60-80 on the same route, so even then they were noticing some type of population decline and that is where the DNR is realizing there is no solid answer. Kilburg also did another study with the transmitter collars finding where they were "nesting" during mid day to see if visibility and land features had something to do with what they felt most comfortable in. Not sure where that study ended, but it was interesting as the times I checked with him, the jack would see us coming from a mile away in almost every direction and still let us get about 3 yards away from them everytime.

Dannyboy was the only one that got to catch one by hand though, how strong was their bite? :grin:
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