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 weaned under 3 weeks

Active: Most active early morning and late afternoon/evening

Diet: Vegetation

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.


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 Helpline for determination

Rabbits FAQ’s

I found a baby rabbit. What should I do?
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.
Should I release it here if I think there are foxes or other predators?
Rabbits are an important part of the food chain. They will not be particularly safe anywhere.
Could we keep it until it’s a little bigger, then release it?
Cottontails stress very easily and will die in captivity. It must be released. It is against the law to possess wildlife. It should be released or taken to a licensed rehabilitator.
I discovered a nest. Was it abandoned?
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 Helpline.
• 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.

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 Wildlife Helpline. 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.

More about rabbits

If you are not certain what to do, call the wildlife Helpline: 703-440-0800

If you live outside Northern Virginia, please see the Resources Page for assistance.

Wildlife Rescue League - Viriginia
Wildlife Helpline 703-440-0800