Disturbed wild cottontail nest

by Katelyn
(Dallas, TX)

My dog dug up a litter of wild rabbits. Their eyes are still shut but they have started getting their fur in. The nest was intact so I just covered it back up and have been checking on them. I haven't removed any of the rabbits and I am positive the doe has been returning to feed them (the nest was disturbed when I returned in the morning).

My concern is that it's supposed to be in the 30s tonight. In Texas? In May? WHAT? It's ridiculous, but I guess I feel responsible for the little kits nested in my backyard. How warm is the nest? Will it be warm enough for them to not freeze to death? It rained earlier today and for fear of them drowning I placed a small table over the nest to prevent rain water from directly entering. I haven't completely dug up the nest so I can only guess there are maybe 4 or 5 kits. I just don't want them to freeze.

***** Karen Sez *****
What a great picture! This is exactly how new world cottontails start their lives - in shallow "forms" in the ground, not in burrows per se. It does look chilly, and even open to the rain, but, look how many cottontails roam the nation. They all did fine.

Excellent job for leaving the bunnies in their nest. And you're right - the doe is lurking around and returns to her nest only once or twice a day. You probably don't need to worry about temperature or even the rain, though it's a nice touch to put a table over the nest.

I think the website readers will be anxious to get an update on how these bunnies survive.

Gotta say, though, they look well fed, and have probably 6-8 days fur growth on them, meaning they are protected from ambient temperatures due to their fur and the combined heat of the litter cluster.

Thanks for posting.

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Sep 01, 2021
Bunny nest disturbed
by: Torrie

We had storms all day and all night. We checked on babies and one had already drowned so we brought other 2 in. We put in shoe box with warm blanket. We saw mom bunny last night but our dog chased her out of yard by accident. We put them back in nest this morning as rain finally stopped. Will mom come back today or will she figure they are gone?

Jun 26, 2019
Currently happening
by: Anonymoose

My dog did the same thing. But we had to keep an eye on her because she is a full born hunting dog so we always have to make sure she doesn’t dig up the nest again and devour the poor beings. Though I have doubts that she will kill them since when we stopped her, she seemed to have only been sniffing and hadn't harmed the rabbits. Still the risk is high and my dad checks on them early in the morning to make sure they are alive.

We know for a fact that mom is alive since the nest seemed disturbed again. The rabbits looked more healthy and lively, and also looked more plump so that would mean mom had fed them recently.

We think the mom had the litter the night before because we think our dog might have picked up the scent earlier if not. Though, our backyard is probably the least untamed in the neighborhood 😅 so the mom has a stock of every food she needs, And I have seen rabbit droppings in our yard, So did my neighbors. Hope both these litters survive and prosper!

Apr 21, 2019
Dog Disturbed Nest
by: Anonymous

Yesterday my dog disturbed a nest of bunnies in Texas. I got the bunny from the dog before he could hurt it badly. The bunny had all its fur and eyes open; the bunny ran away. Later I found the nest and the frightened bunny nearby. I put it back in the nest with four other bunnies.

Because we have dogs I put a container over the bunny hole - but it has plenty of centralization and holes so the mom could get to them -- but not the dogs. This morning I raised the container to check the nest and all the bunnies were gone. Do you think the mom moved them or something else?

Aug 09, 2016
Please help
by: Anonymous

Mama bunny got hit by a car and I am positive it was her as I put string in a cross shape over the nest in the back yard and it has not been moved (going on 2nd day). Bunnies are still alive but they are sooo young, still have their eyes closed. I do not have a rehabilitator near us as I have tried to call everyone.

I am going to make a call to the sheriffs dept. but if I cannot get any help I wanted to know if these wild cottontails need to be fed as often as you mentioned? Seeing as the mother would only feed at dusk and dawn. Can I get away with the same feeding times or do they have to be fed more due to it not being the right food? Also when do I know when to add the bunny pooh (lol) to their food seeing as I have no clue as to their age?

***** Karen Sez *****
When in doubt, add the "bunny pooh" in the form of BeneBac paste right away. I'm told by the manufacturer that it's okay even on day one.

As to how often: By now these kits are dehydrated. This is why they need feeding more often, at least at the outset. If you can get them out of the danger zone (diet-wise), then you can probably slow down with the feedings, at least after a few days.

Good luck with everything!

Aug 05, 2016
Saved one/ now what- still need your help
by: Becka (former anonymous)

Thank you SO MUCH for your speedy response to my original inquiry! Recap- my Charlie boy caught the baby that refused to leave the yard with mom and siblings/ and ripped fur away from his skin in a few places after catching him. It. Was. Horrible. Touch and go. You recommended that if I kept him to assist him in healing to make sure he had feed- so I did just that. Bought hay and food and have made sure that Chaos (that's now the baby's name due to circumstances) Has a relatively large "yard" of his own with fresh water, food, and frozen water bottles scattered around the personal yard - daily. We are in triple digits here and his yard has a tarp over it to protect from all elements: the frozen water bottles was a thing I used to do for my own rabbits a good 20 years ago- and Chaos LOVES them: this Texas heat is no joke... Anyway,

My question- is it too late to release this baby back into the wild? Do they become dependent on us as some animals do? I check on him multiple times a day- and he is so scared - it takes a good half hour to get him to settle down and let me pet him (check his wounds) or rub his ears. He is far from aggressive / just unsure and I feel needs to be let loose. Checked the wounds tonight. The fur has grown back except for the most obvious wound/ but even that is looking great compared to the first night. Release? Call a local wildlife specialist? Thank you so much for your time. I wish I could attach Picts to show you the dilemma/progress.

Kindest Regards,

***** Karen Sez *****
Hey Becka, such a happy ending for Chaos. Yes, you can release the lil guy. Guidance for the process is at the Feeding Wild Rabbits page, starting at #17 in the how-to-do-it list. He'll be fine, as long as he can run faster than your dog, lol. And wouldn't it be fun if every once in a while you could spot him out and about in the evenings?!

Jul 23, 2016
Saved one - now what do I do?
by: Anonymous

I'll try to make this quick. Charlie (my dog) found a brand new nest weeks ago and I did what I always do/ fenced it off with an opening for Mom to come and go - and covered it to protect from the elements. Everything was great- they all "grew up" and left the nest / backyard- except one. Why? I'll never know. Never had one linger like this.

Charlie caught him last night and tore the fur away from his skin in 2 places. Bunny was in shock but alive. I brought him inside and built a "nest" for him for the night and checked his wounds. He survived the night and now I don't know what to do. At a total loss. Put him back in yard? Cage him in yard until he heals more? Do I feed him? Just put water down? Any help is much appreciated!!

*they were discovered July 7th and couldn't have been but a day old if.

***** Karen Sez *****

Yeah, no idea either why this little guy chose to hang around. And by the way, the cage over the cottontail nest was a brilliant move.

If the rabbit is not badly wounded, for example, no huge rips in the skin itself, I think I'd elect to release the bunny back into the wild. At the same time, ensure there are nearby hiding spots for it as described in the Saving Wild Rabbits page. Leaving water might be nice, but there should be plenty of feed out and about unless you live in Yuma AZ.

You've got good animal instincts; there is probably no wrong choices among your suggested ideas. And if the little guy survives and still hangs out, then he must just like you all! Or he's unable to recognize a sweet dog like Charlie is also a predator, lol.

Jun 10, 2015
I don't know if she's coming back!
by: Anonymous

As I was mowing my lawn, I noticed rabbit fur in clumps and then looked to see an uncovered nest of little bunnies. It was about 3 in the afternoon, knowing that the mom only comes at dusk and dawn, I covered up the nest and just mowed around it. I haven't seen any mama bunnies around lately, and am afraid she's not returning (I used to see her sunning on my porch in the mornings). I checked back at the nest today, and have noticed that the nest seems untouched, I don't want them to starve and am afraid that my dog or the neighbor dogs may have gotten her or even a car. Having a mother as a wildlife rehabilitator I'm confident in feeding them, but don't want to unless I have to. Do you think that I should take them in? Or give it another day, I know how often kits need to eat and am fearful of them not eating.

***** Karen Sez *****
You can probably give it another day. Check the bellies on the little kits - that'll tell you whether or not the doe has been back, and therefore whether or not to intervene in the situation.

Best of luck with them.

May 01, 2015
Another similar tale
by: Anonymous

I posted a question yesterday but I think it did not go through, so here is a recap with some follow up.

Yesterday, my two dogs uncovered a litter and one of them picked up a kit in her mouth. It was uninjured and I returned it to the nest with its three other siblings. I covered the nest with hay and hoped for the best.

This morning the nest looks untouched. I saw online this piece of information:

"However, if you have destroyed the high grass with a lawnmower, if your dog dug them up, or if the area surrounding the nest has been significantly changed, the mother will probably not continue to care for her babies." (http://www.2ndchance.info/bunnies.htm)

Yesterday, the kit's belly looked full and so I think it had just been fed and was in good shape.
I think I will give the mother another day to hopefully return. If not, I am going to assume that she has abandoned her litter and I will probably need to rescue the kits especially if they look like they have not been fed.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

***** Karen Sez *****

Sounds like a good plan. If you end up taking the kits into your care, be sure to check the info at https://www.raising-rabbits.com/feeding-wild-rabbits.html

Best of luck with everything. :-)

Apr 30, 2015
Do I put them back?
by: Tony in San Antonio

While I was walking my two dogs today, they became very interested in a bush and after some rapid digging, and one of them pulls out a baby cotton tail in its mouth. It did not move and I thought she had killed it. The nest was shallow and my instinct was to take the other three out as they were now exposed and the nest must have smelled like two dogs had just attacked it. I was concerned the doe would not return.

I placed the bunnies in a box with cloth and they are fine for now. I thought I did the right things until now. As I read more about what to do, I wonder if I should have just covered up the nest with the three remaining bunnies and simply just checked on them daily to ensure their well being.

Now I read that up to 90+% of these rescued bunnies will not survive. I wonder if the best thing is still to place them back and hope for the best.

Any suggestions?

***** Karen Sez *****
How long has it been since the kits were removed from the nest? If just 24 hours, you might be right to just put them back.

Cottontails don't burrow - they make "forms" for nests - the shallow depression you described lined with fur and grasses. The doe hides them in brush, and also sometimes builds them in our lawns when the grass grows a bit long.

It's been a learning experience for you, and I commend you for doing your research. What you actually do at this point is your call. If you decide to try to raise the kits, check the info at https://www.raising-rabbits.com/feeding-wild-rabbits.html. I think following the information there will improve the chances of survival to considerably better than 10%, especially if you also feed a probiotic before starting solids (as recommended). Releasing them back into the wild is also an easy procedure.

If you choose to return the kits to the nest now, you simply will not know the outcome for certain, which is also okay. They will return to the larger chain of life and death that we call Nature, and even if you check on them later, you will never know for certain their fate.

Either option IMO is a valid one. After all, your dogs were participating in Nature by following their wolf-ish instincts, and had they been feral, would certainly have eaten the kits, which in the big scheme of Nature would have made not even a dent in the cottontail species.

Apr 28, 2014
Help with baby kits
by: bluegill

On April 19 I was working up my garden and dug up a nest of 5 kits. still pink. I did have a glove on and put the kits back in the nest. Then 3 days later all 5 were dead. I have been told that once a nest has be disturbed the mother will not come back. If this happens to me again I want to know how to feed and care for them. Can any one help with this.

***** Karen Sez *****
Yeah, that sounds traumatic. In the wild these things happen, though I know you feel bad about it. And by now that cottontail is already half way through a new pregnancy. Everything is okay, and you actually did the right thing by leaving the kits where the doe would find them. Some does might not return to a disturbed nest, but many of them do if they feel it is safe to do so. There's also the chance that the cottontail doe later met up with disaster herself and couldn't return to the kits.

For next time, since you ask, here is the page that will help you: https://www.raising-rabbits.com/feeding-wild-rabbits.html

Good luck!

Mar 10, 2014
Disturbed nest
by: Anonymous

Likewise, our terrier dug up a nest yesterday. One of the three bunnies came out of the ordeal unscathed.

Now the dilemma. We put two of the three back in the nest. One had serious injury to its skin (being pulled by the dog); one passed away.

The question; Will mom take care of the one which appears perfectly healthy if the second one is possibly fatally wounded in the same nest? As well, Should we leave the healthy one alone? It is hard to tell if mom came back last night. How long can the little one make it without nourishment? It appears as though its eyes are just about to open, but not quite yet.

May 11, 2013
My dog disturbed nest
by: Dawn

3 days ago my dog disturbed a baby cottontail nest.We fixed the nest back and I checked to make sure mom had returned to care for them, she had. Yesterday we received a lot of rain and the nest filled with water and the babies were barely keeping their heads above it. We took them out of the water and placed in a bucket with some hay for a nest. I bought some kit replacer milk, the water has recessed now, but its not as deep and it's mud. Should I put them back or try to feed them now?

***** Karen Sez *****
There's a chance the nest would've flooded even without your dog's help. Were it me, I might try to rebuild the nest with dirt and grasses, dam the side of the nest where the water would have come from, and then put the kits back into the new nest. It's always better to leave the kits to the mum, but with such an extensive nest rebuild...dunno. Maybe you could let us know what you decide to do, and what the outcome is?

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