You walk around your yard, and suddenly you almost step on a nest of baby bunnies! There they are, in a shallow nest lined with fur and grass. They’re all alone, so your first thought is that they’re orphaned. The reality, though, is that mom is nearby but is staying away from her babies because she has an odor, but they don’t. She doesn’t want to attract predators due to her scent. So she only returns twice a day to nurse her babies, when no one is looking.
Here’s the golden rule: if the nest is intact and the babies are not injured, leave them alone! Try not to touch the babies — mother rabbits are very sensitive to foreign smells and may abandon their young if handled. Also, baby rabbits are very high-strung and may experience organ failure or go into a state of shock if stressed too much. Handling is very stressful to baby bunnies.
As simple as “Tic-Tac-Toe”
Don’t try to construct a barrier around the rabbit nest or you may scare off the mother rabbit If the nest has been disturbed, or if you think the babies are orphaned, you can lay some pieces of yarn or string across the nest in the form of a “tic-tac-toe” pattern and wait for at least twelve hours. If the tic-tac-toe grid is displaced but the nest is still covered 12 hours later, the mother has returned, nursed them, and re-covered them. You can breathe a sigh of relief!
If the tic-tac-toe grid stays in place for over 12 hours, the mom has probably abandoned them. Mother rabbits tend to be skittish, especially if their nest site is badly disturbed or if any cat or dog got in and killed any of their babies. You’ll need to call a rehabilitator if the tic-tac-toe grid indicates that the rabbits aren’t being tended to.
Baby bunnies 911
Once you have established that there is a rabbit nest in your yard and that mom is attending to the babies, give mom and her babies some space. Most importantly, keep all pets and free roaming cats away from the nest. If a cat gets a baby rabbit, this is a huge problem. Right away, you must bring the cat inside and keep her inside until the babies have grown up and left the nest. Because cats have toxic bacteria in their saliva, once they bite a baby rabbit, that animal is likely to get a septic infection which can kill them. This is why cat-caught rabbits must go to a rehabilitator immediately (even if they look uninjured) so that they can be given antibiotics right away to ward off that septic infection.
Keeping bunnies safe
Before mowing, walk around your yard to make sure no baby rabbit nests are hidden in danger’s way. And if you find them, give yourself a break – grab a beer and delay mowing for few weeks, until after they’ve left the nest. At worst, if you must mow, leave a wide band of tall grass around any nest. Try to mow as little as possible in the general area of the nest so Mom isn’t scared away permanently.
The good news is that baby rabbits are on their own when they’re 3 weeks old and the size of a chipmunk, so it’s not a long time to keep your cat indoors or in the garage, or to keep walking your dog on a leash.