Rabbit nest in yard

Posted by David Smith

July 17, 2019

If I had a dollar for every person who’s said they found an abandoned baby rabbit in their yard, I’d be a wealthy man.

It happens every year. People mow the lawn and find a nest of baby rabbits. Kids find them and bring them home, begging mom and dad to let them keep the little fur balls. Your dog lunges at something, you restrain him, and see that his intended victim was a baby rabbit.

People post pictures all over social media showing adorable baby bunnies they “rescued,” often with text that reads something like, “I don’t know what to do with it. I think the mother abandoned it. Maybe I should try to raise it myself.”

As a matter of fact, that last bunny and dog example mentioned above is exactly what happened to me a couple years ago. And yes, I did post pictures of the little cottontail on Facebook (as well as a short video…I am hanging my head in embarrassment right now).

But as much as I wanted to keep the tiny cotton ball–and I really did have a hard time letting it go–I knew it wouldn’t be the smart move. Here’s my advice for anyone who has thought about “rescuing” and raising a baby cottontail rabbit: don’t.

Don’t do it. For the sake of the rabbit, just throw that idea in the trash bin straight away. Wild rabbits are very difficult to raise to adulthood. It can also be a bad idea for your own sake. Chances are that your efforts will be for naught and the baby rabbit will die while in your care. That’s heartbreaking.

Young wild rabbits are hard to raise and quick to die when removed from their natural environment.

The babies (called kits) expire for any number of reasons. They are extremely sensitive to stress. They often have not built up sufficient reserves of the natural antibodies or necessary intestinal bacteria they get from their mother’s milk. As such, they aren’t equipped to cope with stressful environmental conditions, and anything outside of their natural outdoor environment is stressful.

Wild animals generally need to grow up in the conditions they were intended to live in as adults. It’s rare for a wild animal raised in captivity to survive when released.

The good news is that a great many of the baby rabbits that people find are already big enough to get along without your help.

David Smith

The picture of the whiskery fellow holding the baby bunny above is me. I’m holding the rabbit kit that my dog lunged at (yes, I saved its life!). A kit that size is probably between two and three weeks old. At that age they are, in fact, able to survive and grow to adulthood all by themselves, barring the usual accidents or dangers that all rabbits face.

Their internal protections and reserves will be stressed and weakened by being in an alien environment (like a shoebox in your house). They will be able to strengthen their immunities and natural defenses on their own in the wild.

There’s more good news to reassure you that leaving the bunny outside is usually the best course: Chances are it’s not an orphan at all. It’s quite rare to find a mother rabbit with her nest of babies during the day.

Mother rabbits typically visit the nest intermittently during the night or in the early morning, and only for a few minutes at a time to quickly nurse the kits. If you don’t see a mother rabbit near the nest, don’t assume that the kits are abandoned.

David Smith

When I was a kid we were told that once a human touches a baby animal its mother won’t have anything to do with it. The theory was that once handled, the baby has acquired human scent and the mother will automatically abandon it.

That’s not necessarily true. It is the sight and physical presence of humans that concerns animals. After all, rabbits, squirrels, deer and other wild animals live in and move through our world constantly. If they’re making nests in our yards and stealing from our gardens, it’s a good bet that human scent isn’t going to scare them from their mothering duties.

So what should you do with that baby rabbit you found or that your children brought home? After explaining to your children that it’s probably best for the rabbit to be returned to the wild, you should do just that. Put the kit back where you or they found it, cover it with some grass and walk away.

If you returned the baby to a spot in your yard and you have a dog or cat, keep them away from the area until the rabbits are gone. We leashed our dog and took him to another area of the yard to do his business. It only took a day or two before the little rabbits had moved out.

We saw one of them running along the fence the next day. Remember, at the age most young rabbits are found they are able to get by on their own and have probably already been exploring and checking out the area before you found them.

If the nest has been destroyed by a lawn mower or perhaps by a dog digging it out, you can relocate the rabbit to a field or area with long grass. It should be able to adapt to the new location.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all rabbits are meant to survive. It is natural and healthy for the rabbit population that a good many kits do not survive. Rabbits also perform their duty as food for other animals. It’s a necessary circle of life scenario.

End note: If you do decide to try to raise a found baby rabbit, you should read as much as you can on how to properly care for the kit. There are a great many variables to consider that can determine your success or failure in the project. Temperature, cleanliness, handling, what to feed, what not to feed, when to feed, how much to feed, watering, dealing with illness, when to release, how to release, where to release, and a host of other considerations need to be addressed.

You can find a number of good online wildlife rescue sources that detail how to care for baby rabbits. But remember, attempting to raise a wild rabbit requires a significant commitment.

And don’t think you’ll be able to make the rabbit a pet. Besides being illegal, it won’t work out. If you want a pet rabbit then purchase a domestic rabbit bred to be a pet. You and the rabbit will be happier.

This post was originally published on February 12, 2019.

NEXT: MICHIGAN JUST REVEALED THE BIGGEST SECRET TO MOREL HUNTING IN THE STATE

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My dog dug up a nest of baby rabbits

Great! The mother came back overnight!

Leave the nest alone

If you’ve done a string test and you know the mother rabbit is coming back to feed the babies, leave the nest alone. Cottontail rabbits do very poorly in captivity – their best bet at survival is with their mom.

The good news is that cottontail rabbits grow up really quickly! They start leaving the nest as early as 3 weeks old, and soon disperse from their mother’s territory.

Can I move the nest to a better spot?

No. Rabbits are very specific about the location of their nest. Moving it even a foot or two away will cause the mother to abandon it. Mother rabbits are also one of the only mammals who cannot pick their babies up to move them to a better spot.

I don’t want my pets to hurt the rabbits

A mother Cottontail will often choose to nest in a backyard with big dogs. We think that’s because she knows her babies will be safer there from natural predators, like raccoons, skunks, or opossums. Smart mom!

Remember that cottontail rabbits grow up really quickly – they leave the nest at about 3 weeks old. If the babies have their eyes open they are at least 10 days old, meaning they’ve been in your yard for two weeks without you even noticing! It might be inconvenient, but keeping your dog leashed for those 3 short weeks is the best thing you can do to keep baby rabbits safe and with their mother. You can use temporary fencing to cordon off the area with the nest – just make sure there is hole at ground level big enough for the mother rabbit to get through.

Cats can also be a threat to baby rabbits. We love cats at Toronto Wildlife Centre, but are big advocates of transitioning them to indoors-only. Visit our friends at Cats and Birds Canada for tips on how to help your cat make the big change!

Should I leave food or water for the mother rabbit?

No. Leaving food or water near the nest runs the risk of attracting predators like raccoons, skunks, or outdoor cats. If you want to help the mother rabbit out, hold off on mowing the grass for a few weeks. You could also stop pulling up dandelions. Dandelions are one of a rabbit’s favourite foods!

Those scorched, dead patches of grass that dot your lawn come summertime might be a bit more alive than you think. Baby bunnies could be burrowing beneath the surface, where they’ll stay for the first three weeks of their lives.

According to a video by the Ontario Wildlife Removal Inc., all you have to do is pull up those “dead” sections up grass to reveal the baby rabbits — called kits! — nestled together, waiting for mom to come back to feed them. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see mama rabbit, though, since they only tend to their young once or twice a day.

Without this handy tip, it’s pretty easy to overlook a bunny hole. Here’s what a rabbit nest looks like to us, above ground:

Ontario Wildlife Removal Inc.

Knowing what you know now, it’s so important to comb over your lawn before mowing, or risk harming the little family below the surface.

Finding a rabbit nest, though, is very much a “look, don’t touch” situation — which is tough since kits are the cutest babies in the animal kingdom. “Please just let them be,” said Jeremy from Ontario Wildlife Removal. “We know that they’re growing up, which means they’re getting fed.”

The wildlife agency followed up their video with a similar note on baby deer — like rabbits, fawns are left alone for most of the day and shouldn’t be touched or disrupted. If the little deer’s ears are “curled,” though (that means they’re dehydrated), or they’re bleeding, it’s best to call a local licensed wildlife rehab sanctuary.

[h/t Huffington Post Canada

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A shallow hole in the ground. A covering made from loose grass and soft fur. And a handful of baby rabbits with closed eyes, wiggly noses, and delicate little bodies.

Even when the discovery of a rabbit’s nest comes as a bit of a shock, most people are much happier to discover baby bunnies on their property than, say, baby opossums or raccoons. Still, humans who find them are often left wondering how to proceed. Should they just leave the kits alone? Should they actively guard the nest until the mother returns? Should they assume that the babies are orphans and therefore need assistance?

The answer is a bit complicated, so here’s a step-by-step guide:

(1) Check for any obvious signs of injury

This is especially important if it was your dog who first found and uncovered the babies, as even the friendliest pooches can accidentally harm tiny animals when they get excited! Before you do anything else, take a quick peek at the little ones to make sure that everyone’s okay. Red flags include:

  • Bleeding wounds.
  • Twisted or gnarled limbs.
  • Frequent crying or whining, especially when they’re touched.

If nothing seems amiss and all of the kits look healthy and content, you can proceed to Step 2. If someone is injured, or one of the babies is actually dead, then skip directly to Step 4.

(2) Fix the nest.

The good news is that, even if you don’t see the mother rabbit around, the kits are probably not orphaned or abandoned. Mother rabbits tend to leave their babies unattended for long periods of time, only returning a twice a day (at dawn and dusk) to feed, groom, and check up on them. You could have a nest of kits in your backyard for weeks and never once see their mom!

So, unless you’re certain that there’s a problem, the best thing you can do is try to restore the nursery to the way it was before someone disturbed it. Put the babies back (if they’ve been picked up and handled) and try to find the grass/fur drape that originally hid them. Either cover them with that, or—if it’s been destroyed—just shred some dry grass and camouflage the babies as best as you can.

Don’t hang around the any nest longer than you need to. While it’s not true that mother rabbits will reject their babies if humans or dogs leave their scent on them, you run the risk of attracting undue attention to the area. And doing so may encourage animals (especially predators) to come take a look, putting the kits in real danger. Just take care of business and then walk away!

(3) Make a Mark

You can, in good conscience, be “done” with the nest at this point, and that’s an easy attitude to have if the nest was in the woods or some kind of public area. But if the nest was in your yard or garden, then you may have a burning desire to continue to see to the kits’ safety and well-being.

Don’t try to monitor the nest 24/7; this will almost certainly do more harm than good. What you can do is take measures to verify that the mother is still checking on the nest as usual. Here are two common tricks:

  • Take a few pieces of unflavored dental floss and very gently lay them over the nest in the shape of an “X” or a tic-tac-toe board / hashtag.
  • Sprinkle a small circle of unscented baking soda on the grass around (not on!) the nest.

The following morning or evening, take a quick peek at the nest to see if the floss or baking soda has been disturbed. If it has, then you’ll know that Mama Rabbit came by and everything is fine. If your marks are still pristine, though, then something might be wrong.

(4) If Worse Comes to Worst…

Unfortunately, Mother Nature can be a harsh mistress, so it’s entirely possible that the kits are orphaned. And if the kits are still so young that they’re dependent on their mother, then they likely won’t survive without human intervention. Signs that it may be time to take action include:

  • The floss or baking soda remains completely undisturbed for more than a day or two.
  • One or more kits is visibly injured (refer back to Step 1) or dead.
  • You find a dead adult rabbit relatively close to the nest.
  • The babies appear weak, lethargic, or skinny.
  • Checking the babies right after sunrise reveals sunken-in, empty bellies. A kit that has just been fed will have a round, full belly.
  • A skin-pinch test suggests that the babies are dehydrated. Remember: if you gently pinch the skin on the scruff of a kit’s neck, the skin should “snap back” into place immediately. If it remains pinched or tented, then the kit isn’t getting enough fluids.

Keep in mind that just one of these problems alone isn’t enough to warrant a “rescue;” there are many different reasons besides parental abandonment that baby bunnies sometimes fail to thrive. However, if the kits are obviously in distress and just getting worse, then being raised and rehabilitated by humans may really be their only hope.

If it’s absolutely necessary, gather up the kits and as much of the original nest as you can. Place them in a small box with a lid (and air holes), and bring them inside so that they can stay warm and safe. Give first aid to anyone who’s bleeding.

(5) …Call in an Expert

Unless you’re a trained professional or have a lot of experience in this department, do not attempt to foster the kits yourself! Baby bunnies are notoriously difficult to hand-rear. Even expert care and supervision won’t guarantee (or give them a very high probability) of survival. And don’t even think about keeping them as pets! They’re wild animals who will never be fully content with living in captivity.

If you really want to give them a fighting chance, then call animal control or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center in your area. Explain the situation; they’ll be able to give you advice and, more than likely, take the bunnies off of your hands so that they can be cared for properly. With hard work (and a bit of luck), the kits will be able to return to the wild within a week or two!

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No doubt about it: baby rabbits are super cute, and the nests that their mothers build for them can be fascinating to look at. When you come across a bunny nursery, your first instinct may be to interact with the kits or even try to “adopt” them. But please resist the urge to do this! As with most forms of wildlife, keeping your distance is usually the best thing you can do for them.

…Unless, of course, they overstay their welcome. In that case, it’s probably best for everyone if you have the little critters relocated!

Photo courtesy of Chepner on Flickr

Can rabbits count?

The next time the mama bunny returned to the shallow nest she dug in the neighbor’s yard, would she notice one fewer baby to feed?

These were my thoughts as I gingerly lifted the still bunny who had risen to the top of his eight wriggling brothers and sisters. I buried him in our backyard, feeling like I had some hand in his death — and truth be told, I probably had.

It had all started less than a day before when my kitten, proud that she was finally big enough to catch something, dropped a 4-inch fuzzball at the feet of my daughters. I just hoped the bunnys’ little ears hadn’t developed their highly tuned hearing, because the high-pitch squeals of my daughters’ delight were deafening even to human ears within a half-mile radius.

Lulu hadn’t harmed the bunny, who was so small he was still getting used to having his eyes open. But having been through this before, I knew what was coming next.

Our last cat, Coco, brought me a slightly bigger bunny as a Mother’s Day present one year. It was so cute the way she brought it to me by its neck like it was her kitten, dropping it in front of me before it scurried off unharmed. The next one she brought home was in two pieces — not so cute.

The cat, of course, was just following nature. We forget that the same pet who purrs as she rubs her head under our chin is wired to be a killing machine.

When the University of Georgia strapped “crittercams” on the collars of 60 outdoor cats last year ( kittycams.uga.edu), they discovered that 30 percent of them take out two animals per week. Before you think, “Not my cat,” I should note that only 21 percent of the cats in the study brought home their kill.

After locking the cat in the house, we put the little guy safely in the window well in a shoebox with a blanket, a dish of water and some lettuce. We tucked our daughters in hoping we wouldn’t be having a “Circle of Life” conversation in the morning.

Not only was the first bunny fine, but shortly after breakfast we had another one to put in the box. Lulu spent her night learning to put her claws into the screen door and slide it open — reducing her time on the inside to about eight hours. We had made such a fuss about the first bunny that she brought us another.

This time we let the cat go and followed her right to the nest: a squirming mass of furry cuteness with seven tiny, twitching noses. It just doesn’t get any cuter than that. We set the two catnapped victims on top of the pile, and they burrowed down happily beneath the others.

That should have been the end of it, but they were just so adorable — and seemingly helpless.

It’s hard to stand back when your instincts are telling you to do something,” said Lea Peshock, Animal Care Supervisor at Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. “As much as we feel the natural pull to help animals that we think are in trouble, sometimes it’s best to just leave the animal be.”

Actually, most of the time it’s best to just let them be.

Wildlife experts agree that it is quite normal for adult animals to leave their young in a safe place while they go forage for food. Mama bunnies come to the nest only twice a day to feed their babies.

But how hard it is for 6- and 8-year-old girls to leave alone a pile of baby bunnies? How about their 45-year-old mother?

We “checked” on the nest far too often, and when one hopped out, I instinctively grabbed it and put it back with the others — with my bare hands. Once the girls saw me do it, all bets were off.

“Baby mammals are nearly scentless in order to prevent predators from finding them,” said Janet George, senior terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “When humans touch these animals, they are imparting them with a scent their adults will not recognize or even fear. This can result in true abandonment of healthy offspring.”

Maybe the one that didn’t make it was the one I had handled. As cute as wildlife is (and this goes for those adorable begging chipmunks, too, by the way), we have to resist — sometimes their lives depend on it.

Of course, as the urban/wildlands interface grows, sometimes it’s the animals who make the first move. Growing up in the Foothills outside of Loveland, we fished a lot of things out of our swimming pool, including a young deer.

After trying many deterrents, my parents rigged up a motion detector that would blare talk radio. Apparently the deer in their neighborhood are liberals, because they ran away the fastest when Rush Limbaugh was on. Down in La Veta several summers ago, they took similar measures when they started electrifying the Dumpsters to keep the bears out.

If wild animals become dependent on humans, no good can come of it — for us or them.

I finally came to my senses that spring afternoon and told the girls to back away from the bunnies. We watched from a distance, and that night were rewarded by the most wondrous sight: The mama at the nest with seven tiny sets of ears sticking out from underneath her.

As difficult as it can be, we have to trust that the ultimate mama is looking out for the little ones: Mother Nature.

Chryss Cada is a freelance writer and adjunct journalism professor at Colorado State University. She promises never to touch a baby bunny again. Visit her at chryss.com.

This response was provided by Darryl Coates, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, District Wildlife Biologist.

Good afternoon,

Rabbits spend their lives in a fairly small area, typically 10 acres or less. Home ranges of one to five acres have been reported in central Illinois. Most residential lots are quarter acre 75′ X 145′ lots. Rabbits use forms (a shelter made from grass or weeds) and scrapes beneath the cover of vegetation.

Rabbits are polygamous (mate with several individuals), and they start breeding when they are as young as six months old. They breed from February through September, with the peak occurring between March and May. Gestation is 28 to 30 days, with four to six young born per litter. Rabbits often have three litters per year. The female digs a small, shallow depression about the size of a woman’s hand. The nest is lined with grass and the female’s fur. The top of the nest is camouflaged with grass and leaves. The young are born blind and without fur, but within a week their eyes are open and by the second week their fur has grown in.

If you find a rabbit nest do not disturb the young or the nest. The female has not abandoned her young. To keep predators from finding the young the female only visits the nest twice a day to nurse them, typically once in early morning and again in the evening. Young rabbits develop quickly and will leave the nest when they are about three weeks old. The best way to protect young rabbits in your yard is to leave them in their nest. Keep cats and dogs away from the area, and be careful when mowing overgrown lawns.

To encourage rabbits to leave your yard: Habitat modification – remove brush piles, weed patches, stone piles, and other debris and keep the grass cut short. Exclusion – Works well for small areas but is not practical for a large yard. Exclusion fencing is 1/4 inch hardware cloth. Very effective if protecting a small shrub and tree. Repellents: Repellents can be used but must be reapplied as plant material grows or heavy rain washes taste repellent off. Practical for small border planting but cost prohibitive for yards. Thanks for contacting us.

What to do about wild rabbits

Rabbit damage is almost always the result of their appetite for our plants. They eat flower and vegetable plants in spring and summer and the bark of fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs in the fall and winter.

Mowing and raking yards can disturb rabbit nests. Cats and other animals catch and injure small rabbits. Sometimes people see newly independent young rabbits and think that such small creatures can’t possibly get along without their mothers. People often don’t know the best thing to do when they find rabbits that appear to need help.

What attracts rabbits to urban areas?

There are several species of wild rabbits—most are called cottontail rabbits—who, between them, live across most of North America. Cottontails like to live at the edges of open areas. In fact, they are rarely found in dense forests or open grassland.

This love of edges means they love our suburbs. Yards, parks, playgrounds, and office parks, often with small natural buffers in between, have lots of edges between small areas of different habitats that rabbits love.

Common problems and solutions

Here today, gone tomorrow is one way to describe rabbits in suburbia. Given the many predators who make meals of rabbits, their populations can rise and fall dramatically over the course of a year. Sometimes, by doing nothing and letting nature take its own course, the homeowner sees the same result as they might from trying to “control” rabbits.

Rabbits eating plants

First things first: Make sure a rabbit is the culprit. Deer eat many of the same things rabbits do and are also common around yards. Twigs browsed by rabbits look neatly clipped but plants browsed by deer appear ragged and torn. You may see the easily recognizable tracks of rabbits in soft soil or snow. And you may see the rabbits themselves—a dead giveaway to their presence—most often near dawn and dusk.

Barriers for flowers and vegetables—A well-constructed fence is the most effective way to protect plants. Two-foot high chicken wire supported by posts every six to eight feet is strong enough to keep rabbits out. Stake the bottom securely to the ground to prevent rabbits from pushing underneath it.

Movable fence panels can protect the garden right after the first planting, when damage is likely to be most severe, and go in the shed the rest of the year. Some years, you won’t need the panels at all, given the ups and downs of rabbit populations. New plantings can be protected individually under plastic jugs that have the bottom cut out. These also serve as mini-greenhouses in spring when nights are still cool.Other protection may need to be provided once the jugs come off.

Garden Fences on Amazon.com

Barriers for trees—Commercial tree wrap or plastic tree guards can keep rabbits from nibbling bark. Cylinders of hardware cloth (stand on their own) or poultry wire (need staking) can work as well. These barriers should be as high as usual snow depth plus eighteen inches. Young trees and saplings are more vulnerable so focus on protecting them.

Rabbits may reach low-hanging branches. A homemade barrier can encircle around them as well. Or prune and leave the trimmings on the ground away from valued trees as a decoy food. Rabbits prefer twigs and buds to the bark of the trunk and will eat these instead if they are easy to reach.

Repellents—In some places, fencing won’t be practical or damage will be so slight that a fence isn’t cost effective. Then chemical repellents can protect small plots and individual plants. Don’t use a repellent on plants that people will eat unless the label specifies it is safe to do so.

Rabbit Repellent on Amazon.com

Scare Devices—Sometimes, scare tape or balloons might frighten rabbits away from an area. The pinwheels sold to repel moles might provide a look scary to rabbits as well.

Habitat Modification—Remove cover (vine thickets, tall grass, and shrub cover) around gardens and orchards so rabbits don’t have escape cover. They will spend less time—and eat less food—where they feel unsafe. Think, however, about the potential negative effects on other species that could benefit from a naturalized back yard.

Does that rabbit need help?

Mothers feeds baby rabbits only twice a day—at dawn and dusk. Baby rabbits found alone in a nest are usually not orphans.

If a nest has been disturbed, put it back together and cover the babies with the grass that originally covered them. To check if the mother is coming to care for them, place several lengths of yarn (small branches work, too) in a grid pattern over the nest. If the grid is disturbed after the next dawn or dusk, the mother is still caring for the youngsters.

Baby rabbits leave the nest when they’re 3 weeks old and about the size of a chipmunk. If you find a chipmunk-sized but fully-furred rabbit with eyes open, ears erect, and the ability to hop, they are meant to be on their own. As small and helpless as they may look, they are not an orphan and doesn’t need your help.

You can prevent harm to baby rabbits by checking your yard carefully for rabbit nests before you mow. Do this especially if you’ve let the grass get taller than usual.

Outdoor cats and dogs are a major threat to bunnies. If your pet gets hold of a bunny, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian should see the bunny immediately. And bring the pet indoors immediately. A dog or cat will remember where the nest is and put the other bunnies at risk.

Also, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to abandon pet rabbits outdoors, and domestic rabbits do need our help. Domestic rabbits look a bit different from wild rabbits. Most wild rabbits in The United States are cottontails, who are brown with white tails. Domestic rabbits vary in size from 2 lbs. to over 20 lbs. (though most will be around 5 lbs.). They have ears that stand up, hang down, or are stuck in the middle. And, most notably, their coats come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, from pure albino white to jet black, with plenty of browns and grays in between; their patterns may be striped, spotted, or more unusual.

Public health and rabbits

Rabbits can be infected with tularemia, which may be transmitted to people if they eat undercooked, infected meat or handle a sick animal. It’s best not to handle any wild animal, if at all possible. Wear gloves if you must handle a wild rabbit. And wash thoroughly afterwards.

Resources

  • R.M. Lockley’s The Private Life of the Rabbit (1975: Avon Books) is an entertaining and readable account that also reminds us there are very few natural histories of rabbits available.
  • If you are located within the D.C. Metro Area, take advantage of our wildlife conflict resolution service.
  • Purchase a copy of Wild Neighbors; the go-to guide for useful, humane solutions to conflicts with wildlife.

Posted by Craig Raleigh

June 10, 2017

One of the most adorable things you can find in your own lawn is a rabbit’s nest. Knowing what to do next is easy information to share.

The Ontario Wildlife Removal Facebook page was kind enough to share a bit info, combined with a nice video (yes, of cute baby bunnies) that will give you an idea of what a rabbits nest looks like, and what to do when you find one.

Check out the video here:

I found these in my own yard in the past, and it’s just as he says in the video: “This just looks like a patch of dead grass”

Wild cottontail rabbits will spend hours making multiple nests with mouths full of… your own grass! They will put these dug-outs right in the middle of your lawn, or sometimes in your garden.

One good piece of advice is that the mother rabbit will only visit the nest once or twice a day at the most, so if you happen upon one of these little holes-full-of-bunnies, just leave them be and they will be gone before you know it.

Since wild rabbits can also be full of fleas, there’s another good reason to take a picture and then leave.

NEXT: LITTLE BOY HELPS RESCUE STUCK FAWN AND IT’S INSANELY ADORABLE

oembed rumble video here

Rabbits nesting in yard

Most of the wild rabbits found in the GTA are “Eastern cottontails” (we may occasionally see Snowshoe hares in the north). Cottontails commonly nest in backyards, parks, and other urban locations. Rabbit nests are typically a shallow depression in the ground covered with dried grass and tufts of fur, just enough to cover the babies and keep them warm. The mother spends very little time with them, and may only come back to feed them a couple of times a night. If you’re worried the babies might be orphaned, check our page on baby rabbits for more information.

Leave rabbit nests alone, and be patient

Mother rabbits can be very sensitive to changes around the nest site, so it’s important to leave rabbit nests alone. If the nest is moved even a few feet, the mother will abandon it. Cottontail babies grow up quickly and start to leave their nest as early as 3 weeks of age. They may be independent of their mother by the time they’re only as big as your fist!

Deterring rabbits from nesting in your backyard

If you would like to discourage rabbits from nesting in your yard in the future, make the area unappealing. Wait until any existing baby rabbits have grown up and left the nest before trying any of these techniques. Rabbits are a prey species, so they are easily frightened and wary of changes in their environment.

Place unfamiliar visual stimuli around the yard, such as beach balls (they bounce around in the wind), shiny colourful pinwheels, or colourful foil balloons. Empty beer or pop bottles buried up to their necks in the ground will make a scary whistling noise when the wind blows. A motion-sensing sprinkler can work well to deter rabbits and other animals from a backyard. Mesh bags, like the ones onions come in, can be filled with pet fur or human hair from your brush, and hung at rabbit eye level.

Be creative! Visual deterrents are very effective at keeping cottontail rabbits away.

Rabbits are known for being fluffy. However, they don’t start out that way. Newborn rabbits are born blind, helpless, and unable to move much. They’re also born naked, with no fur at all.

Most rabbits will have some fur by 7 days old. By 12 days, they’ll have a thick layer of fur covering their entire body. Sometime between 3 and 12 months of age, they’ll lose their soft, cottony baby fur. Then, their sleeker adult coat will grow in. It may be a different color.

We’ll explain what newborn rabbits look like, and whether they’re ever born with fur. You’ll find out when their fur starts to grow, and how long it takes, and what happens when the adult coat grows in.

What Does a Newborn Rabbit Look Like?

Baby rabbits are called kits, short for kittens. If you’ve never seen a newborn kit before, you may be surprised by their appearance.

Rabbits are born helpless and dependent on their mothers. They are born deaf and blind, with their eyes and ears closed. They are only around 2 to 3 inches long, weighing 1-2 ounces. This can vary depending on the breed.

Newborn kits also can’t move much. They’ll try to move straight away, but all they can do is wriggle for the first few days.

Do baby rabbits have fur when born? Unlike other pets, rabbits are born completely hairless.

This is true regardless of breed. No matter how much hair your rabbit will have when grown, it starts life with none at all.

Most newborn rabbits have pink skin, if they’re going to be a light color. Rabbits destined to be darker (brown or black) may have dark skin at birth.

If their skin is mottled, with dark patches amongst the pink, they’ll likely have multicolored fur. It’s often possible to make out their future markings from as early as birth.

Can You Touch a Newborn Rabbit’s Fur?

You may have heard that you should never touch baby rabbit kits. The belief is that you’ll transfer human scent to the babies, and the mother will reject them. Fortunately, this is not true.

Rabbits are good mothers – they don’t get put off by human scent. They’ll recognize their baby’s scent underneath yours, and it won’t bother them. This is particularly true for domestic rabbits that have been bred to be comfortable around humans.

The myth was probably started to convince young children not to interfere with a wild rabbit’s nest. Rabbits are very fragile, and it’s easy to hurt them if you’re too rough.

Not to mention, handling wild rabbits can cause extreme stress. According to research in Pathophysiology, acute emotional stress can cause sudden death in some rabbits.

If you’re breeding your own bunnies, though, it’s sometimes necessary to touch the babies. For example, you’ll have to touch them to weigh them, feed them, or move them.

As long as you’re gentle, they’ll be fine. Just try not to keep them separated from each other for too long, or they’ll become stressed. Here’s some advice on how to look after a baby bunny.

When Will Baby Bunnies Get Fur?

Baby rabbits are fast-growing. You’ll be able to see them transforming daily.

This serves an important purpose for wild rabbits. The sooner the babies can see, hear and run from danger, the more likely they are to live. And of course, to keep warm, they need to grow fur.

By 3 days old, most baby bunnies have started to grow soft, downy peach fuzz. This is the beginning of the rabbit’s undercoat. It’s not thick enough to keep them warm yet.

At this point, they’ll spend all of their time in the nest, snuggled up to their siblings. Their mother will have covered the nest with some of her own shed fur to provide warmth.

At 7 days old, most baby rabbits will have a soft baby coat. They’ll have a fine, short, soft layer covering most of their body. Their feet, belly, nose, and ears may still be pink.

All rabbits, regardless of breed, will have developed a full coat by day 12. By this point, their fur is thick enough to keep them warm. Their eyes and ears will be open, and they’ll be far more coordinated, too.

At this point, the baby bunny’s fur will most likely be close to their adult color. However, it may not be exactly the same. Their color can still change until their adult coat comes in. When this happens can vary from rabbit to rabbit.

How Long Does It Take Rabbit Fur to Grow?

Rabbit fur starts growing from the moment they’re born. It continues to grow every day until they’re around 4 weeks old. It will seem like every time you check on the babies, their fur is a little thicker.

Between 4 and 6 weeks of age, the baby coat will turn into the “intermediate coat.” It’s made up of downy hairs and longer guard hairs. This is about the time that wild rabbits will be fully weaned, and leave the family group.

Their intermediate coat will continue to grow in thickness until it is replaced by the adult coat. This can happen anywhere between 4 and 12 months of age.

Generally speaking, the adult coat is longer, sleeker and more protective than the subadult coats. A rabbit’s fur can vary wildly in appearance and texture from breed to breed.

Why Is My Baby Rabbit Losing Its Fur?

Just like humans, it’s normal for rabbits to lose some hairs each day. You’ll notice this if you brush your rabbit.

Adult rabbits will also go through a full molt every few months. In the spring, they’ll shed their thick winter coat, and replace it with a light summer one. In the fall, they’ll lose their summer fur as the winter coat grows in.

Baby rabbits don’t shed much until they’re about 4 to 5 months old. This is when they have their first big molt, and their adult fur starts to come in. Before this, any fur loss should be minimal.

If your baby rabbit is losing its fur, there may be several different causes. For example:

  • Over-grooming. This is usually triggered by stress or boredom.
  • This is where one rabbit plucks the fur of another rabbit, usually due to dominance issues.
  • Parasites, such as fleas or ear mites. Excessive scratching can bring on hair loss.
  • Bacterial or fungal infections, such as ringworm.
  • Illness, such as an autoimmune condition.

If you’ve noticed fur loss resulting in bald patches, consult a rabbit veterinarian. They’ll be able to establish whether it’s a medical or behavioral problem.

Can Bunnies Change Color?

At eight weeks old, rabbits are ready to be separated from their mothers, and join their forever homes.

By this point, they’ve finished most of their important development. They can eat solid food, run from danger and live independently. The only thing left to do is to finish growing.

Depending on breed, a rabbit may reach its full adult size between 6 and 12 months of age. As they approach adulthood, they will go through their first big molt. This is when young rabbits lose their baby fur, and grow their adult coat.

Your rabbit’s first molt will happen at about 5 months old. For about a month, their coat will look strange, as it transitions into the adult fur. It may look patchy, uneven or messy.

You should brush your rabbit every day while it molts, to help remove loose hairs.

At the end of this process, you may find that your rabbit’s fur has changed color. The fur may become darker, lighter or a different shade. This is because the long, adult guide hairs may be a different color to the juvenile hairs.

It won’t go through any dramatic changes, though. Your tricolor rabbit won’t suddenly turn black, for instance.

Your rabbit’s fur may also change color going into the winter, or into the summer. Some rabbits, for instance, get white fur in the winter. This helps them blend in with snow in the wild.

Baby Rabbit Fur Color Genetics

Domestic rabbits have hundreds of different colors and combinations. The color that a rabbit will be depends on what genes it inherits from its parents.

Some colors are recessive. A rabbit must inherit one recessive gene from each parent to express that color. Dominant colors will be expressed even if they only inherit one gene for it.

In rabbits, some genes also “turn off” certain colors, or dilute them to make them lighter. And of course, the rabbit may also inherit genes for particular patterns, like tricolor.

Unless you know what recessive genes each parent carries, it’s hard to predict what color babies they’ll create. But as soon as the babies have grown their fur, you’ll know what they’ll look like as adults.

Is the rabbit injured?

Eastern Cotton Tail

A baby rabbit has the best chance of survival when it is cared for by its mother. Before intervening, we want to make sure the rabbit really needs our help. Cottontail rabbits nest from March through September and may have as many as four litters per year. The average litter contains four to five babies. Young rabbits disperse from the nest at 15-20 days old. By three weeks of age, they are on their own in the wild and no longer require a mother’s care. This means that young rabbits found on the ground may be completely healthy. Even though they look small, they are not orphans and do not need any human intervention.

A baby rabbit needs to be rescued for the following reasons:

  • It is bleeding, has an open wound, or has a broken bone.
  • It has been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth.
  • It is covered in fly eggs (these look like small grains of rice).
  • It is cold, wet, or crying nonstop.

Still unsure if the rabbit you found needs assistance? The next step is to determine the age of the rabbit to see if intervention is needed.

Found a juvenile rabbit?

Juvenile Eastern Cottontail

  • Is the rabbit fully furred?
  • Are its eyes open?
  • Is it larger than a baseball?

If so, you have found a juvenile rabbit. Juvenile rabbits may look very small but they are independent from their mother and know how to do just fine on their own. Juvenile rabbits do not need to be rescued.

Found an infant rabbit?

Infant rabbits are very small, have a very thin layer of fur, and their eyes are closed or may have just opened. Their best chance for survival is to be reunited with their mom.

  • In order to reunite an infant rabbit with its mother, the baby must be warm. Place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Wrap the sock in a soft towel and place it next to the baby to warm it up.
  • Next, attempt to locate the nest and put the baby back. A rabbit’s nest looks like a shallow depression in the ground, possibly lined with rabbit fur and/or grass; cottontail rabbits do not burrow.
  • Place the baby back in the nest and sprinkle the area with flour or cross two twigs over the nest and check back in 24 hours. It is unlikely that you will see the mother return because she does not want to draw attention to her babies, but you will likely notice other signs of activity.
  • If there are rabbit footprints in the flour or the twigs have been moved it is likely that the mother rabbit has been reunited with her baby!
  • If there are no signs of activity, take the infant rabbit to a wildlife rehabilitator. Keep the baby warm, but never attempt to give an orphaned rabbit any food or water. Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems and giving the baby anything without the proper training can be fatal.

NOTE: Each animal’s nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if the animal has any chance of survival. It is best not to feed a wild animal any food or water as this can cause more harm than good. Cow’s milk and human milk replacers will make wild animals sick. Raising a wild animal in captivity without the proper training is never recommended.