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August 18, 2011

Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere

  • If you look carefully, you might find a nest of baby rabbits snuggled in your lawn. istockphoto

  • They hop away so quickly, most people catch a fleeting glance of their neighborhood rabbits. istockphoto

Warm weather signals the height of baby animal season, and baby bunnies are everywhere—in yards, meadows, and golf courses. Many forms of danger lurk for baby rabbits, from lawnmowers to people who think nests have been abandoned and outdoor cats and dogs.

Spring is dangerous for baby rabbits

"Springtime brings many calls to wildlife hotlines," says Laura Simon, field director for The Humane Society of the United States' Urban Wildlife program. "Lots of baby rabbits are taken to wildlife rehabilitation centers for injuries that could have been prevented." We've got tips to help you make the world a little safer for the rabbits in your yard and neighborhood.

Reconsider that rescue

Those who "rescue" baby rabbits are advised to return them to the nest immediately. Gloves should be worn, because mother rabbits are sensitive to disturbance and unfamiliar smells. Surprisingly, it is normal to find baby rabbits left alone. The mother returns only twice a day to nurse, and stays away the rest of the time so she doesn't attract predators. By the time the baby bunnies are three weeks old (the size of a chipmunk), they are ready to hop out on their own.

Spring isn't the only time to look for rabbit nests before you mow your lawn: Mother rabbits may give birth so long as it's warm. So please check for nests every time.

Find out if those bunnies are orphaned

If you are concerned about whether or not the mother has returned to care for her young, you can perform the "X" test. Place a double "X" of yarn or string over the nest, then check back 12 hours later. If the mother has returned to nurse them, the "X" will have been pushed aside but the babies will still be covered with nesting material. If the "X" is intact after 12 hours, the babies are probably orphaned, and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted.

Things to look out for

You can protect rabbits from some backyard dangers:

1. All through the mowing season, carefully check your lawn for rabbit nests before mowing, especially when the grass is higher than usual. Also keep an eye out for adult rabbits, whose fur can blend in very easily with grass, bushes, and weeds

2. Be extra watchful if you let your dogs or cats outside without a leash—their natural prey instincts make them major threats.

If your pet has gotten hold of a rabbit, take her to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian immediately. It is also vital to bring the pet indoors immediately. A dog or cat will remember the location of the nest and want to return, putting the other baby rabbits at risk.

Want to know more about your wild neighbors?

For more tips on living humanely with wild animals, visit humanesociety.org\wildneighbors.

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