One of the things I really hate about spring is the abundance of baby cottontail bunnies here. It's not that I hate baby rabbits (how could you hate something so incredibly cute? I mean, just look at that face!), and, as a gardener I don't even hate that they grow up into garden eating machines. But...
I do absolutely & positively hate that our dog thinks it is his mission in life to find each and every baby rabbit on our 15 acres and do whatever he feels like with them ... sometimes that just means disturbing the nest a bit, other times it means trying to 'play' with them (and I'm using the word 'play' loosely here), and sometimes it means eating them for a snack.
I REALLY love our dog and I can accept all of his bad habits (there aren't very many!) ... except for this one. It is just horrible and it stresses me out.
But, he is a dog after all (and a super sweet one at that!) ... he just instinctively does what most dogs do and that sometimes includes chasing and hunting other animals. He especially likes chasing adult rabbits (although he has never been able to catch one) and I'm ok with that. Baby rabbits though, are too easy for him and as far as I'm concerned, just not fair game.
This morning he found a baby bunny in our front yard.
We had gone for our morning walk and I went back into the house and left him out in the fenced front yard for a bit. A few minutes later when I went to bring him in, he had a very, very small baby bunny in his mouth.
He dropped it onto the sidewalk (after some prodding) and reluctantly went back into the house. I grabbed some leather gloves and went out to see if the tiny bunny was still alive.
I picked it up (with gloved hands) to see if it had any cuts or wounds on it from it's ordeal with our dogs mouth and I couldn't find anything. The little bunny was breathing and moving around, so it seemed to be ok.
What a relief!
Finding a rabbit nest is much easier said than done...
Cottontail rabbits don't burrow, but rather just make their nests on the ground. Usually their nests are a shallow depression in the ground that they line with rabbit fur and/or grass. Since I didn't see our dog actually get the bunny, I assumed (and hoped!) the nest was near where we found our dog with the bunny.
It took quite awhile, but, with the baby bunny resting safely in my hand, I finally found what I thought probably was his nest. Here's what it looked like ....
I pulled back some of the fur to look inside, and there were 3 or 4 other baby bunnies inside. So, I put the little bunny back into the nest with his brothers and sisters and covered it back up with the fur.
What to do if you find a baby bunny ....
Here in Virginia, The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers some information/guidelines for finding baby bunnies. Per their website:
Cottontail rabbits nest from March through September and may have as many as four litters per year. The average litter contains four to five babies. Young rabbits disperse from the nest at 15-20 days old. By three weeks of age, they are on their own in the wild and no longer require a mother's care.
If you find a baby rabbit:
- Is the rabbit injured (bleeding, broken bones, puncture wounds, been in a cat's mouth, open wounds, etc.)?
- If YES, contact your nearest veterinarian that is capable of and willing to see wildlife patients (always call the veterinarian prior to bringing wildlife to the hospital) or rehabilitator for treatment.
- If NO, see below.
- Is the rabbit fully furred with its eyes opened?
- If YES, if the rabbit is larger than a baseball and weighs more than 4 ounces or 100 grams, it is on its own and does not need human intervention.
- If NO, attempt to locate the nest and put the rabbit back. Nests that must be moved (due to construction) may be relocated up to 20 feet away from the original site (scoop up and rebuild the nest with the mother's fur and place the babies inside). Check back briefly once a day for two days. If the rabbits appear to be plump and healthy, leave them alone. Mother rabbits feed at dusk and dawn. You are not likely to ever see the mother. If the rabbits appear thin and weak, have wrinkled, baggy skin, contact a state licensed small mammal rehabilitator in your area immediately. Rabbits may be temporarily moved for mowing if they are returned to the nest before dusk. Do not attempt to mow within 10 feet of a rabbit's nest if there are babies present. If you suspect the nest is abandoned, you can sprinkle the area with flour or cross two twigs over the nest and check back in 24 hours. If there is no sign of disturbance to the nest, you will then need to intervene.
So, I'll check on the nest again later today and probably tomorrow too to make sure the babies are ok ... oh, and our dog won't be going out into the front yard for the next few weeks!