What should you do if you find a bunny nest?
Eastern Cottontails, the most common rabbit species in the United States, reproduce throughout the spring and summer, typically starting in mid-March and nesting through mid-September. They build shallow nest of grass and fur in grassy areas near bushes or trees and often right out in the open. You many be surprised that a rabbit would build a nest in the middle of a yard, but it is quite ingenious because most predators will not venture into an open space.
Even with a keen eye, you do not always see a rabbit’s nest until you are on top it. Nests can look like small piles of messy grass among the regular lawn vegetation. Most often it is children or pets that find the nests. If you have discovered a nest has been disturbed, check if the babies are visibly injured or suffering. If so, take them to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
If they look uninjured then leave them alone. Well-meaning people may assume a nest has been abandoned because the mother rabbit is not around, but this is probably not the case. Mother rabbits are very secretive, so they don't draw attention to their nest; it is very rare that you will see a mother rabbit coming and going. The mother feeds her young only twice a day -- at dusk and dawn.
You will not see a lot of activity at the nest; mother rabbits stay away to avoid leading predators to the nest. If you do suspect abandonment, lay four pieces of string or twigs in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest as straight as possible. Leave the area and check back in 12 hours. If the mother rabbit has returned to nurse her young, the string/twigs will be out of place. If the string/twigs are undisturbed, and the bunnies appear thin and weak, with wrinkled, baggy skin, the babies may be orphaned. The babies should be taken immediately to a wildlife rehabilitator.
It is also a good idea to check your yard before mowing since the rabbits are in shallow nests. You can easily mow the "top" off their nest, possibly injuring babies. Do not attempt to mow within 10 feet of a rabbit's nest if there are babies present. You can protect a nest during mowing by placing a plastic lattice laundry basket upside down over the nest and then remove after mowing. Leave the nest area as undisturbed as possible while the young rabbits grow.
Never chase a rabbit to capture it. The stress of being chased can be dangerous to a baby rabbit. Rabbits are a high-stress species prone to a condition called capture myopathy, which is caused by chase and stress. Capture myopathy can lead to damage to internal organs, and even death.
Never give food or water to injured or orphaned wildlife. Inappropriate food or feeding techniques can lead to sickness or death. Baby rabbits have particularly sensitive stomachs and require a special diet. Cow’s milk will make them sick.
NOTE: Each animal's nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit.