This guide will walk you through the care of a wild rabbit's nest and it's inhabitants. This advise is based on personal experience and a small amount of research.
Step 1: You've Found a Nest!
Rabbits' nests are generally well hidden and can turn up anywhere. The most common places are near bushes, trees, and tall grass. A rabbit's nest can be identified by its common construction of grass and fur. Tall grass is tightly woven into clumps of the mother's fur, providing insulation and camouflage. This covers the burrow underneath.
If you come across a nest under no special circumstances, the best thing to do is leave it be. Don't lift the cover to see the cute bunnies inside. Yes, baby rabbits are incredibly cute and fun to watch, but don't let that be a risk to their survival. If nothing looks out of the ordinary, do not disturb the nest.
Step 2: Your Dog Found a Nest!
This is the most common occurrence in my experience. There are several identifying factors indicating your dog has discovered a nest:
- (S)he is very excited, running to the same spot over and over again.
- Abnormally heavy panting.
- Loud screeching noises, often confused for a squeaker toy. (Baby rabbits sure have a major set of lungs, I once heard this cry for help when I was inside at the computer.)
- Your dog has something in it's mouth that seems odd, and is acting strangely about it.
- You see an adult rabbit (the mother) frantically dashing about.
I will walk you through several scenarios.
Your dog has something in it's mouth.
Immediately order your dog to drop it. Put force into your voice to tell the dog you mean business. If your dog is well trained, (S)he will comply. If not, grab hold of your dog's nose and lower jaw. Gently force the mouth open and retrieve the rabbit. If someone else is present, have them take the dog inside. Walk over to the rabbit and check for any obvious signs of injury. This includes blood, broken bones, and intense squirming. If the rabbit is injured, immediately call the local vet or humane society. Unless you are a professional, any attempts to care for the wounded rabbit are futile.
The rabbit is uninjured.
I know what you're thinking. This cute, helpless baby rabbit is spooked, confused, and "homeless". I know, I'll raise it myself! Whatever you do, DO NOT TAKE THEM INSIDE! Any care you think you're giving could, and probably will, kill the rabbit. In fact, it is illegal to take in a young wild rabbit in most states. This will also cause the mother and captive baby to become frantic. This often results in the baby injuring itself.
. Gently pick up the young rabbit. If you can, wrap it in a small towel. Don't be startled if the rabbit begins to rub and push it's head against your fingers. It won't bite, it is simply trying to burrow into a less traumatic environment. The rabbit will probably be wet in places from your dog's saliva. Don't worry about this too much. The nest cannot be too far, you should find it within a few minutes. Gently place the rabbit back into it's burrow and replace the cover.
The nest is destroyed.
If your dog found the nest, it is likely in disarray. Do your best to reconstruct the nest, it is vital to the rabbit's survival. If it is absolutely necessary, you can move the nest up to ten feet away. To do this, dig a shallow hole about as deep and wide as the original burrow. Gently pick up the rabbits and transfer them to the new nest. If possible, surround the nest with a bunny accessible fence to keep your dog away. Be sure to leave a gap large enough for the mother. Fences aren't foolproof, you will still need to keep an eye on your dog. Mine managed to trap itself inside the fence. Be extra cautious when the rabbits enter their exploring stage.
Do not worry, the mother will not abandon her young if you or your dog's scent is on it.
Step 3: The Mother Is Nowhere in Sight
Don't worry this is completely normal, mother rabbits are known to be absentee parents. During the day, the mother leaves the nest to feed and disclose the location to predators. At night or in the early morning, the mother will visit the nest for up to five minutes. The mother's milk is very nutritious and among the richest of all mammals. This provides enough energy to last the young all day. When she is finished nursing, the mother will leave the nest again.
. There are several ways to check if the mother is returning to the nest. The first is to make a crisscross or tick-tac-toe pattern on the nest with grass. If this is disturbed in the morning, the mother has visited the nest. This doesn't always work though, the rabbits can enter and exit the nest without disturbing it much. It's best if you place it near the area you think is the entrance.
. You can also place unscented baking soda near the nest and check for disturbances the next day. Also, once a day carefully remove the cover of the burrow. Look inside and check the condition of the rabbits. If they seem skinny, dehydrated, cold (no body heat), or are whining often, the mother is not returning. A sign of dehydration is a lack of "springiness" in the skin. If you gently pull on the skin around the back of the neck and it does not spring back, the rabbit is dehydrated. You should call your local vet or Humane Society if any of these signs apply. If the rabbits seem healthy, replace the cover and leave them be.
Step 4: Lost Rabbit.
On one occasion I came across a lost rabbit. This was back when the rabbits were inhabiting the fern. If you notice a young rabbit at least ten feet from the nest, take note of it's location. If it hasn't moved in an hour or more, it is probably lost and confused. Gently pick it up and place it near the nest, not directly in it. Not too far though, place it directly on the edge or within an inch of the burrow. Make sure the nest is uncovered when you do so. If the rabbit runs into the burrow and snuggles in with it's buddies, you've found the right nest. If not, it's best to place the rabbit back where you found it.
Step 5: Truly Orphaned Rabbits
As I've had no experience in this field, I'll direct you to my resource.
Again, make sure you KNOW for sure the mom was killed and the bunnies are abandoned (not warm, etc).You will not see the mom.Remember, the mom will only come back in the middle of the night to feed her babies.If the mom was killed, the best thing you can do for a wild orphaned baby bunny is to get in touch with a skilled rehabilitator.In the meantime, call your local humane society or animal control and one of these vets for a wildlife referral: http://www.rabbit.org/vets/vets.html