Female cottontail rabbits do not stay with their babies like other mammals. Because they are prey animals, their best defense is not to draw predators
to the nest. A nest is nothing more than a small divot in the ground covered with a mixture of rabbit fur and grass or leaves. The mother rabbit returns to the nest twice during the night to feed the babies. She nurses from a standing position and is gone again within minutes. If you accidentally uncover a nest of baby bunnies, chances are mom is still around, but not where you can see her. It is almost impossible to catch a mother visiting the nest, and she will not return if you are present.
All baby animals do best if fed and raised by their mother. This is particularly true for cottontails. If you have a dog in the yard where you locate a nest of cottontail babies, you can protect the babies from the dog by covering the nest during the day with a large upside-down flower pot, for example, and then remove the cover at dark so the mother can reach the babies during the night. To determine if the mother is coming to feed the babies, the most accurate test is to pick up one of the babies and look to see if the stomach is full of mother’s milk. Individual baby bunnies may be brought to you by a cat or dog. If uninjured and you know where the nest is, simply put the baby back. The mother will continue to care for the baby, even if you have touched it.
If the bunny needs help, place it in a container in a quiet, dark place away from children, pets, and other noise. If the baby gets cold to the touch, add a heated rice sock, warmth from a light bulb, or other warm object near but not on the baby. Baby rabbits can die quickly if stressed. For that reason, PLEASE, DO NOT HANDLE OR TRY TO FEED. Bunnies who have been handled a lot do not survive well in rehabilitation. Especially, do not let children play with the bunny, no matter how cute it is.
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