TOPEKA (KSNT) — Spring is finally here and that means some people in Kansas may run into newborn wildlife, including baby rabbits.
FOX4 affiliate KSNT-TV reached out to Diane Johnson with Operation Wildlife (OWL) in Linwood to learn more about what Kansas residents should do if they find baby rabbits on their property. While it may be tempting to take the rabbits inside to save them from potential danger, this could actually cause more problems for the animals. Johnson’s organization provided an exhaustive list of the do’s and don’ts when dealing with bunnies in the backyard.
The most common rabbits found throughout the U.S. is the cottontail which create nests in shallow depressions in the ground between spring and late fall to raise their young, according to OWL. Females can produce up to six or seven litters, which could have as many as 12 babies each, throughout the year. Nests are usually small holes in the ground filled with insulating material such as fur from the mother and other materials.
Mother rabbits return to feed their young only twice a day at dawn and dusk, according to OWL. The mother stays with her babies for only a few minutes before leaving, lending the appearance that the babies may have been abandoned.
If you do stumble across a nest it is important to leave it alone, according to OWL. The mother of the babies relies on an internal “GPS” to find her way back to her nest and could lose her babies if they are moved even by a few inches from where she left them. If you do come into contact with the babies and the nest, you are encouraged to touch each of the bunnies so that they will all smell the same. The mother will already be accustomed to your scent. It is a myth that touching the bunnies will cause the mother to abandon them, according to OWL.
If you or a pet disturbs the nest, you are encouraged to rebuild it by covering the nest with dried grass, leaves and fur left behind by the mother, according to OWL. If you found injured baby bunnies, you are encouraged to call organizations like OWL.
Pets like dogs and cats can pose a big risk to baby bunnies, according to OWL. Cats carry a large amount of bacteria in their mouths which can kill a cottontail quickly; any cottontail caught by a cat needs to be brought in for medication and rehabilitation. You can take steps to protect the nest by covering it with something like an upside-down wheelbarrow so pets can’t get in by the mother rabbit can. Otherwise, OWL recommends keeping pets out of your yard if you find a rabbit nest until the babies mature and leave: Baby cottontail rabbits only take around three to four weeks to become fully independent.
If you encounter a baby bunny displaying any of the following, you are encouraged to get in touch with an organization like OWL as soon as possible:
- Tiny, hairless and not in a nest.
- Cold and lethargic.
- Covered with insects like fleas, ants, ticks or flies/flystrike.
- Has been fed any kind of formula, milk, sugar, honey or egg yolk.
- Has been in the mouth of a cat or dog.
- Broken limb, cuts or bruises.
- Head tilt.
- Loosely hanging fur patches or flaps of skin.
- Unable to stand or move without falling over.
If you find an injured baby bunny and need to bring it to OWL, the best thing to do is keep the animal in a place that is warm, dark and quiet. This includes putting them in a shoebox with airholes cut in and using a heating pad or Ziploc bag filled with warm water to keep the babies warm. OWL emphasizes not feeding the baby bunnies as the wrong foods and drink can kill them.
When handling rabbits, it is also important to protect yourself. Cottontails can carry a disease called tularemia which can be transmitted to people, according to OWL. Tularemia is a potentially serious illness that can bring on symptoms of fever, chills, headaches, joint pain within three to five days after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling a rabbit, or any other wild animal.
To learn more about what you should do if you find baby rabbits in your yard, go to OWL’s website by clicking here. You can also use the diagram below, provided by OWL, to help construct a safe area around a cottontail’s nest.