Not too long ago, my granddaughters found a baby bunny. They were worried that the bunny was orphaned and would die without help. Of course, they wanted to help the little baby bunny. This led to them calling me since I take care of pets for a living. But, I have only cared for a few domestic bunnies. So I did some quick research and was surprised by what I discovered when searching for information about how to keep a wild baby bunny alive.
This is what I found out.
Wild bunnies are often left alone for extended periods of time by the mother bunny. The mothers often cover their babies with leaves and their nest is often made of fur and grass. The babies have no scent so they are hard to find by predators when left alone. The mothers come back at night.
If we “rescue” the bunnies and take them from their hiding spots in the nest, their chance of survival decreases dramatically. They are far safer being left alone. In many places, it is illegal to disturb the wild baby bunnies.
By the time I discovered this, my granddaughters had brought the baby bunny inside and had made a warm bed for it and gave it some lettuce and vegetables. The baby was not eating food yet as it was still nursing and my daughter couldn’t find any bunny formula. I called my daughter and told her that the bunny would be safer if put back where it was found, gently covered with a few leaves, and left alone so the mama bunny felt safe to return. The mama would not return if there were people around.
Of course, the girls could watch the spot from a distance. And, they did. Nothing seemed to happen that day. The girls were afraid that the bunny would be found by a dog or other predator but they followed my advice, watched from afar, and waited. The mama bunny came back that evening and found her baby. The girls saw the mama and the baby a couple more times before they moved on to a new location.
So, what do you do if you find a baby bunny and the mama isn’t coming back for it? First, wait. Don’t move it or touch it. Just wait to be absolutely certain that the mother isn’t somewhere close or doesn’t return at night. The mothers have a scent and purposely stay away to keep their scentless babies safe from predators.
Once you have waited and you are positive that the mother is not coming back, or if the babies are injured, contact local wildlife rehabbers or rescue groups to help you. The fatality rate of rescued bunnies is very high. They are very difficult to keep alive. This is a time to call in the pros. Less than 10% of orphaned bunnies will survive away from their mother.
If you or your dog come across a nest, leave it alone. Bunnies often hide their nests in plain sight, sometimes in the middle of a lawn as was the case with the bunny that my granddaughters found. If your dog has disturbed the nest, reconstruct it as best as possible with grass or leaves. If you need to move it, move it a few feet to a more secluded area — but not so far that the mother can’t find it when she returns and calls for her babies. Keep your dog away from it.
Baby bunnies should not be put back in a nest that has flooded, has bugs or ants crawling in or out of it, has a dead baby bunny that was killed in it, or has blood in it. The remaining bunnies in these situations need to be seen by a Humane Society veterinarian, or a wildlife rehabber. Baby bunnies covered in fleas are also at risk and need to be seen by a rabbit vet.
Many people with good intentions, rescue a nest of infant bunnies, thinking they are orphaned when they are not. The best thing is to leave them alone for the mother. She will come back at night and call for them. She will be frantic if her babies have been moved or are missing. It is common and normal for her to leave them. It doesn’t matter if it is raining or snowing. They are wild animals and are meant to be outdoors. Please allow the mothers take care of them.
Bunnies have very rich milk and only nurse their babies for about 5 minutes in the morning. Because the milk is so rich, the babies fill up quickly and stay full while left alone during the day. Baby bunnies that are being fed are generally quiet during the day. Their bellies are not sunken in and their skin is pink. If they are crying constantly, they are not being fed. Their skin should not have a bluish tint to it.
If you want to make sure that the mother is coming back, you can put grass over the nest in a specific pattern to see if it is disturbed. You can also check to see if the babies look healthy, pink, and have full bellies. If they look healthy, the mother is taking care of them. Bunnies do not sit on their babies in the nest to keep them warm. They line their nest with fur and leaves to make it warm for the babies since they naturally leave them alone for the majority of daylight hours. If the babies appear sick or injured, again call a wildlife rehabber. Please do not attempt to care for them yourself. Their survival depends on it.