The Hutchinson Zoo’s Rehabilitation program at the Cargill WildCare Center is seeing an uptick in baby cottontail rabbits that need help. Some of you may encounter baby or juvenile bunnies while enjoying the warmer weather. Here are some tips to help you determine whether the rabbits need “rescued.”
Baby bunnies may be in or near their nest. Rabbit nesting season is March - September. Mother rabbits build their nests in shallow depressions in the ground, and babies are easy to see. On average, cottontails have 4-5 babies per litter and up to 4 litters each season.
Where's their mother? Female rabbits only feed their young for about two minutes twice a day, at dawn and dusk. They steer clear the remainder of the time to deter predators. Due to this protective trait, it is doubtful you will ever see the mother with the babies.
Test for nest activity if you think the mother is no longer around. Lay four small sticks in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest, leave the area, and check back in about 12 hours. If the mother has returned, the sticks will likely be disturbed. If they are undisturbed and the young rabbits have missed more than two feedings (morning and night), the bunnies should be taken to a licensed rehabilitator.
You can protect the nest. Place a laundry basket upside down over the nest and put a brick or other heavy object on top to keep the area safe while mowing the lawn. Then remove the basket after mowing. Keep your dog on a leash, go for walks, or use a different part of the yard for a few weeks to let the bunnies grow.
Rabbits begin to venture out on their own in three weeks. By this time, their eyes and ears are open, and they can hop around. Although they are tiny and may appear too young to be on their own, they can survive. If they seem healthy, leave them be and leave the area, as they are most likely not orphans. Juvenile rabbits disperse from the nest and are independent 15-20 days after birth.
Rabbits are sensitive and high-stress species. Never chase a rabbit to capture it and handle it as little as possible. Do not try to keep or rehabilitate the animal yourself. It is illegal to keep wildlife longer than 48 hours without a permit. Wild animals, even babies, can be dangerous and possibly carry zoonotic diseases (transferable to humans and pets).
We Rehabilitate & Release
The Hutchinson Zoo rehab program at Cargill WildCare Center is one of the few State-licensed rehabilitation facilities for mammals in central Kansas and the only one in Reno County. Rabbits are just one of the several species that we care for, and we see them in large quantities throughout the summer.
Our rehab technicians clean and examine each rabbit upon intake and determine the best care needed to get them healthy and reintroduced back into the wild. They clean wounds, medicate as needed, and repair injuries whenever possible. In addition, staff and volunteers skillfully provide supplemental feeding by hand. The bunnies are kept warm and safe until they move and eat independently. Then, they are released back into the wild in a safe place they can call home.
You can make a difference for wildlife! Support the Zoo’s care of injured and orphaned wildlife by donating or volunteering.
Want to learn more about wild rabbits and how to humanely deter them from residing in your yard? Check out these tips.
Help Your Hometown Hutchinson Zoo Keep Wildlife Wild
Here’s a helpful flowchart to determine when it’s time to intervene with a wild bunny: