Eastern cottontails are a frequent sight as they sprint across lawns in the spring. My mom and dad's grassy yard is hopping with bunnies. One mama bunny loved their yard so much that she decided to have her babies beside the front porch. We discovered the nest on Easter when their 100 pound German shepherd gingerly snagged a screaming baby in her mouth. The rabbit's scream echoed in my head from my past life as a wildlife rehabilitator. I yelled at the dog. She dropped it, and I picked up the pinkish, short-haired screaming neonate. The poor thing was so little that its eyes were still fused shut. I tucked the bunny in my shirt and took it inside to show all my kids and their cousins. It was a learning moment. I taught them what to do if they (or their big, dumb dog) ever find a baby bunny.
- If its eyes are open, its fine. Leave it alone. It's fine and doesn't need you or its mama. Eastern cottontails only stay with their mom for about two weeks. As soon as their eyes are open, mama says "I'm outta here".
- If its eyes aren't open, find the nest and put it back. Bunnies are really high strung, and they have the best chance of survival with their mama. A lot of people have heard that mama won't take it back if you touch it. This is a myth invented to keep generations of curious fingers out of nests.
- If you can't find the nest, try harder. It will be in a small indentation in the ground, even something as small as a dip in the middle of the yard. It will be covered with hair mixed with dried grass or other plant material.
- If you still can't find it, try one more time.
- If you don't believe me , check the baby the day after you put it back. The mom only comes at night, so you probably won't see her. If the babies are warm, fat, and squirmy, mama's doing her job. If they are cold or lethargic, it's time to put them in a shoe box with a clean towel and call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
- I repeat a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It's hard to tell people I used to run a wildlife rehab without them telling me a story about the raccoon/robin/kitten they raised. While I know people mean well, wildlife needs to remain wild. Though they can admittedly be quite an eccentric group, licensed rehabilitators must be thoroughly trained, intricately record their workings, undergo inspections by the state, etc. (And that's just to rehab mammals. Birds are a much more complicated undertaking.) Your state Department of Natural Resources office or the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Associationshould have an available list of local licensed rehabs.
- If your dog won't leave the nest alone, you have a few options. The first is to watch them while they are outside and keep them away from it. As the mother of a baby who has learned to open cabinets, I know that's not always possible. Since mama only comes at night, you can keep a laundry basket anchored over the nest during the day. Simply remove the little force field at night so mama can return.
- No matter what you do, remember that almost all of the time wildlife young'uns do just fine without our help.
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