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I am a wildlife warrior,
and I will fight,
fight to the death
for wildlife.

Steve Irwin


AM I AN ORPHAN BUNNY?


Am I a real orphan?
History on motherís care: Mothers build their nests almost anywhere on the ground. They are known to build their nests right in the middle of a lawn. However, typically their nests are built along tall grasses and brush piles. A bunnyís nest is extremely shallow, only a few inches dug into the ground. These nests are just deep enough so that a mother can cover her young with the grass she pulled out to make the hole. She also lines the nest with some of the fur from her stomach area. This fur keeps her babies warm and gives them a sense of security that mom is still with them.

Mother rabbits do not stay at the nest like other mammals and/or birds do. They visit their nest just twice a day, usually around dusk and dawn. It is very rare for them to visit any more than that. They do not stay with their young for a long time when they do visit. The average time is about 5-10 minutes.

Just because the mother rabbit doesnít stay on top of her nest with her young doesnít mean she is a bad mother. She is not off partying down the street while her youngsters lie helpless in the nest by themselves. While the mother may not be with her young around the clock, she is not far from her nest. She is hiding someplace where you cannot see her. She doesnít stay in her nest because she doesnít want predators to find her. She has a strong scent that a predator can pick up quickly; her babies do not. She has no defense to help her young if a predator comes. So, if at predator does come too close to her nest, she may will show herself to get the predatorís attention on her if she feels she can escape safely. When the predator sees her, she runs. The predator runs after her away, from her babies. Rabbits can run up to 45 mph. A rabbit runs in zig-zag movements to elude capture. They always appear larger than they actually are, as their fur makes them look bigger. This is helpful when evading predators. Rabbits can squeeze themselves under a fence. At first it will appear that they will not be able to fit, but they do, hoping the predator cannot.

If the nest is disturbed, there are a few things you can do before you pick up those bunnies.

If there is no immediate danger ó do the String Test: re-cover the nest with the leafs, grass litter that is around the nest and put a string in the shape of an X across it. By doing this String Test, you will be able to see if the mother returns. When the mother returns, she will push all the debris away from her babies to feed and take care of them. Before leaving, she will pull all the debris back over the babies. What she wonít do is put the X back the same way you placed it. This is your sign that she has returned and is taking care of her young. If the nest is the same way you left with the X in the same spot, chances are the mother will not return. Remember that the mother only returns twice a day. So it is best to check the string a few hours after one of the feeding periods.

If the nest is in danger of the family pet: If possible, keep the family pet inside. This will allow the mother to take care of her own young. The bunnies grow up quickly. Use the pictures at the top of this page to help determine their age. If the bunnies appear to be only two weeks old, then the bunnies will only be in the nest for the next two weeks. Keep the dog on the leash or the opposite side of the yard. Try to keep the cat inside for the next few weeks. If this just will not work for you, then there are other suggestions. For example, you can cover the nest with almost any container with a hole that is big enough for the mother to get in, but that keeps the dog out, such as a wicker basket. Some people have even used wheelbarrows. In the case of cats, the only suggestion we have is to keep the cat inside. Remember, itís not forever, just for a short period of time to have mother finish her job with her young.

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Myth

ďI touched the bunny with my bare hands, and now it has human smell on it. Iím afraid that the mother wonít take care of it.Ē

Okay, so you touched a baby bunny (or any animal). Just touching a bunny will not cause the mother to abandon her young. Most mothers want their babies back regardless of human interference.

If you feel that there is too much of a human smell on the animal, there is one very simple method we can use to erase the human smell. Rub your hand in the dirt, than rub the bunny with your hand. You have just erased your smell and put the smell of earth back on the bunny. Now put the bunny back into its nest for the mother to do her job.

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Before you pick up that bunny thinking that it has been orphaned or abandoned by its mother, letís go through our checklist first.

  • Is the bunny bigger than a tennis ball?
    If Yes: Then the animal is just big enough to take care of itself. Keep it Wild.


  • Does the animal look injured?
    If Yes: Then the animal comes into rehab.
    If No: Keep it wild.


  • Does the animal look dehydrated or extremely thin?
    If Yes: Then the animal comes into rehab.
    If No: Keep it wild.


  • Does the nest fail the String Test?
    If Yes: If after a feeding period (dawn & dusk) the animal goes into rehab.
    If No: keep it wild.


  • If your pet found the nest and the owner refuses to keep the pet away from the nest:
    If Yes: Then the animal comes into rehab.
    If No: Keep it wild.


  • You found the bunny in the middle of the yard and you do not know where the nest is?
    If Yes: Then the animal comes into rehab.
    If No: Keep it wild.

Generaly speaking:
If yes to any of the above questions, please try to put the bunnies into a secure container with a lid! Make sure the container has air holes. Shoe boxes work great for these sizes. In the bottom of the container you can put some fresh grasses (or part of the nest) so the bunnies feel more secure. Keep the container in a warm dark quiet place until you can get it to the rehabber. Please never attempt to feed the animal. And keep all pets and children away from the box.