Skip to content
a rabbit sits, facing camera dwarfed by larger shrubs
Candid Rabbit A wild Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit triggers a camera trap near its burrow on a TNC-owned preserve in Washington. © Morgan Heim

Magazine Articles

Down on Their Level

A wildlife photographer on how she captured images of Washington's endangered pygmy rabbits

Winter 2021

Jenny Rogers
Jenny Rogers Senior Editor & Writer, Nature Conservancy magazine

More

When wildlife photographer Morgan Heim was asked to document efforts to protect the endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit (read Nature Conservancy magazine's Winter 2021 cover story, "A Big Plan to Save a Tiny Rabbit”), she was “stoked,” she says. Heim lives in the Pacific Northwest and had followed the story of the nearly extinct Washington rabbits for years. But the assignment presented a challenge: How do you photograph a rare and tiny animal?

"It's hard to get close to such a skittish animal, nor would you want to do that when you're trying to be respectful of the critter," she says. And the sagebrush the rabbits nibble on doesn't make it any easier. 

“It’s a really chaotic, dense, low-to-the-ground habitat with lots of gnarly vegetation, too,” she says. “And the animal is very small, so it doesn’t even extend above the grass.” 

So Heim turned to camera traps. She coordinated with field staff and scientists involved in the rabbit recovery project out of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to set up camera traps near known rabbit burrows. Triggered by movement, the cameras could capture pictures of the animals without startling them. 

It worked: Heim’s traps captured dozens of pictures of rabbits. “So many of my pictures are these out-of-focus blurred butts of bunnies, just sitting there so close to the camera, or crawling on it, or just hanging out,” she says. "They just didn't seem to mind too much." 

blurry close up of a gray rabbit facing the camera, lit at night
Curious Creature A wild Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit triggers a camera trap near a burrow in Beezley Hills, a preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. © Morgan Heim
A wild Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit triggers a camera trap near a burrow on the Nature Conservancy-owned Beezley Hills complex between Ephrata and Quincy, Washington.
Bunny Booty Amid the sagebrush, a wild pygmy rabbit hops away from its burrow, triggering a camera to capture its nighttime movement. © Morgan Heim
gray rabbit with big ears mid jump faces camera
Hop to It Caught on camera, a wild pygmy rabbit is dwarfed by the brush surrounding it in eastern Washington state. © Morgan Heim

A few pictures in particular excited Heim. In one, two pygmy rabbits are captured on camera nose-to-nose—a level of social behavior not typically found among these rabbits. Heim shared the image with the biologists involved in the project as documentation of this rare behavior. 

"Maybe the imagery—in addition to capturing a little bit more of the heart and soul of the whole effort—may have also contributed something exciting for them as scientists," she says. "Maybe nothing will come of it moving forward, or maybe it'll raise some new questions for them to look at or get them excited to use more trail cams to see what other kinds of behaviors they can capture."

two gray rabbits face nose-to-nose amid sagebrush. a 3rd rabbit stands in the background
Boop Two pygmy rabbits appear to interact in an image captured via a camera trap on the TNC-owned Beezley Hills Preserve in Washington. © Morgan Heim
small gray rabbit with big ears is shown at night on dirt ground
Nighttime Wanderer A wild pygmy rabbit triggers a camera trap as it leaves a burrow at night in Washington state. The rabbits rely on sagebrush for a large portion of their diet. © Morgan Heim
small rabbit sits on rock with sun shining behind it
Endangered A wild Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is caught on camera perched on a rock. This population of rabbits once dwindled to just 50 individuals. © Morgan Heim
Nighttime Wanderer A wild pygmy rabbit triggers a camera trap as it leaves a burrow at night in Washington state. The rabbits rely on sagebrush for a large portion of their diet. © Morgan Heim
Endangered A wild Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is caught on camera perched on a rock. This population of rabbits once dwindled to just 50 individuals. © Morgan Heim

Read the magazine story

The photo at the top of this page ran on the cover of Nature Conservancy magazine's Winter 2021 issue, which featured the story, "A Big Plan to Save a Tiny Rabbit," about the combined efforts of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and a number of other partners to help save the endangered rabbits from near extinction. 

a tiny gray rabbit looks directly at the camera
Behind the Cover A curious Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit triggers a camera near a burrow. The image of the wild rabbit was used on the cover of Nature Conservancy magazine's Winter 2021 issue. © The Nature Conservancy
Jenny Rogers

Jenny Rogers is a writer and editor for Nature Conservancy magazine, covering books, science and conservation.