Cottontail rabbits bear young in a shallow depression in the ground lined with grass and fur from the mother's belly. The mother rabbit is rarely seen. She doesn't want to draw attention to the nest and visits to feed the young only once or twice a day, usually around dawn and dusk. Young rabbits depend on their mother's care until they are about 21 days old. At that age they are only about the size a tennis ball, but completely independent.
If you have discovered an occupied nest in your yard:
Leave the nest in place. If it was accidentally uncovered, replace the covering of dried grass (and fur if present). If the babies have flushed from the nest, use a clean cloth or wear gardening gloves to gently gather and replace them if they are easily retrieved. DO NOT CHASE young rabbits that are old enough to evade capture. Keep the area free of people and pets, and allow the young to return to the nest on their own.
Please DO NOT offer food or water. Doing so most often causes more harm due to dietary sensitivities of wildlife and/or improper feeding technique.
Although it is best to avoid or minimize any nest disturbance, wild mothers are generally tolerant when it comes to taking care of their babies. Wild mothers do not automatically "abandon" their young if they've been moved or touched by humans. Wild cottontails need their mother's care. Read on for instructions on protecting the nest and keeping cottontail families together:
If the nest has been disturbed or "destroyed" and the young are not injured:
Rebuild the nest in its original location using original nest material if available (dried grass and mother's fur), or pull soft grass to line and cover the nest. Place young inside and follow instructions below to "test the nest to see if Mom's been back."
To protect the nest from pets or other disturbance:
An inverted wheelbarrow propped up on one end (four to six inches) or a disabled lawnmower with the blades in the highest position can be placed over the nest to protect it while still allowing mother rabbit to fit under to feed her young.
To protect young rabbits while mowing:
Place an inverted laundry basket over the nest and keep a distance of at least 10 feet. Remove the laundry basket before evening.
Test the nest to see if mom's been back:
With young rabbits in the nest, place four pieces of yarn or twigs over the nest in a "tic-tac-toe" pattern. Check the following morning to see if the mother has displaced the string. If the string is still in place, it does not necessarily mean the babies are orphaned. Contact the Wildlife Rescue Center for further instructions.
Contact the Wildlife Rescue Center at (636) 394-1880 or firstname.lastname@example.org for instruction on any situation not covered by the preceding information.
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