If you encounter baby rabbits (bunnies) in your yard and don’t see a mother nearby, your first thought may be that they’ve been abandoned. As you start thinking about how to take care of a bunny, you might imagine that it would be easy or fun, but caring for a wild rabbit is very different from having a pet rabbit. First, do not attempt to feed wild baby rabbits even if you think they may be hungry. You could easily do great harm, as only a trained wildlife rehabilitator will know what is appropriate to offer and when.
Baby rabbits should not be handled except when being transported to a wildlife rehabilitator when injured or orphaned.
Do no harm…
The sad fact is that no matter how gentle and kind you would be, the stress a wild rabbit experiences in captivity will cause the rabbit to die, and baby rabbits are especially fragile in this way. If you’re certain a wild rabbit mother has abandoned her baby bunnies, or if you encounter an injured wild rabbit, the best thing to do is to take the orphaned or injured animal(s) directly to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. (See our article first to make sure that the baby rabbit is indeed orphaned, though.) Rabbits go into shock and die of stress easily, so when transporting them, be sure to use a box with a hiding place inside (such as a smaller box on its side, with a flannel shirt to snuggle in and provide a visual barrier) and be sure to be quiet. A radio alone can put a rabbit over the edge.
How to know?
How can you know if the wild rabbit mom is still nearby and tending to her baby rabbits? She will visit them twice per day to nurse, so you aren’t likely to ever see her. Instead of trying to watch for her, 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 she has returned to feed her baby bunnies, the string will have been pushed aside. If the tic-tac-toe pattern stays perfectly in place, she has not returned and you should bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator.
A few other tips…
- Don’t touch baby bunnies unless the mother has not returned for twelve hours.
- Don’t mow near the nest until the baby bunnies leave the nest (it takes about three weeks).
- Keep cats indoors until the baby rabbits leave the nest.
- Walk your dog on a leash until the nest is no longer active.
- Find a nearby licensed wildlife rehabilitator or center and keep the number handy.