“My Dog Found a Nest of Baby Bunnies”
In the last week I have heard this statement from nearly 40% of the calls that have come in to the Center. And it’s not a surprise. It’s spring and cottontails like residential yards; that means we get calls like this all summer long.
Cottontails, which is what native wild “bunnies” are called in this area, are rarely ever actually orphaned. Here are several reasons why people believe them to be orphaned and why they contact the Center.
- They haven’t witnessed the mother going to the nest.
- A mother cottontail tends to only visit her litter at dusk and at dawn. She especially won’t visit when she knows it isn’t safe. Beyond these feeding times she stays away and watches from a distance. There are several reasons for this, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.
- The (insert type of family pet here) has gotten into the nest and/or children have discovered the infants. People believe that the mother will abandon the rabbits now that they smell like humans (and perhaps the dog as well).
- Once she has put the energy into creating a nest, giving birth and caring for those infants, it is highly unlikely that she will not return just because people have visited while she was away. The mother may be suspicious, but as long as the nest area remains safe and accessible at dusk and at dawn then she should continue to return.
- IF – an infant is injured, call a licensed rehabilitator as soon as possible; if it has severe injuries or it has been exposed to a cat it should be brought in as soon as possible so that it can get the medical help it needs.
If these small, helpless creatures can continue to receive care from their mother they stand the best chance of survival. Even the most experienced rehabilitators, no matter how hard thy try, can’t fully replicate the diet and care they would get in the wild. These sweet little creatures are actually old enough to be on their own by 4 weeks of age, so they will be moving on in a hurry and the area can be treated to discourage the mother from re-using it again.
If a pet in the yard is an issue, try putting a laundry basket or empty milk crate out during the day. Bring it inside in the evening so that the mother can access the nest at dusk and again at dawn, then bring it back out again in the morning. Some people have even had success by putting some tent stakes around the basket, or a big rock on top to keep it in place. If this isn’t enough perhaps a small garden fence or temporary fencing will keep pets out during the daytime hours.
Once the nest is repaired:
· Replace the dried grasses, twigs and hair that were protecting the creatures inside.
· Place a string in a pattern over the top of these materials (I prefer a spiral pattern myself).
· Monitor the area daily to determine if the pattern has been disturbed due to the mother tending to the nest.
If you still have questions contact a rehabilitator or wildlife specialist. Do not feed infant cottontails; you can cause more harm than good and they can very easily become over-stressed if handled too much and feeding an improper diet can make things even worse.