Found Baby Cottontail
Living with Nature: Bunnies
Cottontails nest in shallow, hand-sized depressions in the ground. The mother rabbit pulls fur from her belly to line the nest and covers it with dried grass, so you may not even notice the nest in your yard. Cottontails also like to nest in tall grass, so if you haven’t mowed for a while, you may uncover nests when you mow.
Cottontails are prolific, producing as many as six or seven litters between early spring and late fall. Females can become pregnant while still nursing. Although each litter can be up to 12 babies, litters of 4 to 8 are more common.
Babies open their eyes at 7 to 10 days and leave the nest at 3 to 4 weeks. Mother rabbit comes to feed the babies at dawn and dusk, but otherwise stays away so she doesn’t attract predators to the nest. She sits on top of the nest to nurse for only a few minutes, and then she is gone again. If you are not looking for her, you may never see her feed the babies.
If cottontail babies have their eyes open, ears upright and are tennis-ball size or larger with fluffy/fuzzy fur, they are around 3-4 weeks old and are weaned and on their own.
Operation Wildlife has detailed photos and descriptions of bunnies at various stages of development: https://owl-online.org/animal-guide/cottontail/
Can I move or relocate a bunny nest? No.
You can't successfully relocate a rabbit nest. The female will not go looking for the young in a new nest. She will just abandon the young and they will starve to death or get taken by predators.
Should I feed a baby bunny until I get it to a rehabilitation center? No.
Because all wildlife have specialized milk and nursing specific to their species, it is not advised to give them milk or food. Sometimes even offering water can cause unintended side effects such as aspiration.
What best matches your situation?
NOTE: Your scent (from being near or touching the animals) will NOT be a problem. Your scent is all over the yard so mom will have no problem taking care of bunnies you handle. Just put them back in the nest and stay away until they are old enough to be on their own.
- Mowed over Nest
If you have mowed over a bunny nest, first inspect the babies. Remove any dead ones. Healthy ones should remain in the nest - the mother is their best opportunity for survival. Injured ones can be brought into the center.
Put all fur back into the next and cover with a small amount of grass clippings. Keep your pets inside, away from the nest. Then leave it alone and stay away so you do not frighten the mother. Flag the location to help avoid it. When the bunnies are about 3 weeks old they will leave the nest and you can resume mowing of that area.
Continue to be aware though as they will be moving about in the yard. They are learning to hide and perceive what is danger so may ‘freeze’ and not move when a mower or weed eater approaches. Give them time to move away on their own.
- Pet (Dog or Cat) Found Nest
Remove any injured babies - they can be brought to the center. Place healthy ones back into nest. Implement a barricade for the nest to keep out pets.
- Kids Found Nest
Make sure the babies have been returned to the nest and then cover with grass. The mother will be back to take care of them. Instruct everyone to stay away from the nest for a few weeks so as not to frighten mom away.
- Nest Flooded
If the babies are OK, take them inside and warm them up. Warming items might include a water bottle, rice or bean bag (socks work well as bags!) or hand warmers. If, by nightfall, the water has receded, return them to the nest. You can also help dry the nest by physically removing standing water and patting the nest dry with paper towels or rags.
If the nest is at the bottom of a slope or hill, you can construct a wall or barricade around the side of the nest that receives the rain run-off. Plastic land scaping border works well in these situations.
To help keep the nest dry during heavy rains/storms, you can implement temporary cover over the nest:
- Place a wheel barrel, kayak, fire pit cover or some similar object over the top. Make sure there is a space big enough to allow the mother to come and go.
- Make a cinder block border or put fencing around the nest (big enough for mom to get in and out) and place a board or cover over the top.
- Bunnies Out of Nest
When babies are weaned and leave the nest, they are often mistaken for being abandoned. Remember, if they have their eyes open, ears are upright and are tennis-ball size or larger with fluffy/fuzzy fur they are independent and no longer rely on mom for care.
If they are smaller, find the nest (should be close by) and return them and cover with grass. Mark off the nest and wait a couple weeks. Stay away from the nest so as not to frighten mom.
If you have questions, please contact the center at (816) 513-8960