***“Animal Help Tips” is offered as a public information source, not a formal instruction manual on how to deal with wild animal situations. The Wildlife Rescue League does not accept responsibility for any outcomes that might result from reading and acting on this material.***
Birthing: March-October, generally 2-6 but could be as many as ten in a litter. 2-7 litters per year.
Eyes opened: 8 days
Weaning (beg-end): most successfully weened under 3 weeks.
Active: Most active early morning and late afternoon/evening.
Nests: Dug out areas in the ground, covered with dry grass, twigs, fur, etc. Most calls come in early spring when the first lawn mowing occurs.
NOTE: Special information: Eastern cottontails are very prone to die of stress and are terrified of humans. They are not the same species as domestic rabbits and can not breed with them. If a rabbit is found that seems very calm or friendly, it may be a domestic; call the Hotline for determination
Q - I found a baby rabbit. What should I do?
A - If the rabbit is fully furred, the eyes are open, and the ears are up, (rabbit size of a baseball or tennis ball), the rabbit can be on its own. If necessary, put it under a bush or in tall grass, away from cats and dogs.
Q - Should I release it here if I think there are foxes or other predators?
A - Rabbits are an important part of the food chain. They will not be particularly safe anywhere.
Q - Could we keep it until it’s a little bigger, then release it?
A - Cottontails stress very easily and will die in captivity. It must be released.
Q - I discovered a nest. Was it abandoned?
A - The mother rabbit leaves the nest for long periods of time, and feeds babies only twice a day, generally around dusk and dawn. Nests are rarely abandoned, but she will stay away if humans or animals are around too much.
RENESTING BABIES: It is important that rabbits be renested (using gloves) whenever possible and the mother be given a chance to tend the babies. If the nest has been disturbed, the caller should:
• Remove injured/dead rabbits. Refer injured rabbits to the hotline.
• Keep dogs and cats inside until the rabbits have left the nest on their own.
• Recover the remaining rabbits and make a teepee or crosshatch of twigs or straw on top of the nest. Leave the nest alone and check the next morning. If the twigs or straw have been disturbed but the nest is still covered, the mother has returned. Do not visit the nest every few hours or the mother will abandon it.
NOTE: As prey animals, rabbits are very prone to dying quickly when frightened. Handling small rabbits can send them into shock and if placed in captivity, they can die of fright. They also have a high mortality rate in rehabilitation. Every reasonable effort should be made to allow the mother to continue to raise them.
IF IN DOUBT, call the Hotline. Some of the cases in which renesting may not be possible are when the nest has been very disturbed and mother will probably not return, or a dog knows the location and cannot be kept away.