SOUTHERN MARYLAND, Md. – Eastern Cottontails reproduce throughout the spring and summer, typically starting in mid-March and nesting through mid-September. With temperatures rising, it’s time for many of us to pack away the snow shovels and break out the lawnmowers – which means it’s also time to start keeping an eye out for baby bunnies and their nests!
Nests are found in shallow depressions on the ground [cottontails do not burrow]; nests are covered with soft grasses and are lined with tufts of the mother rabbit’s fur. Mother “doe” rabbits are very secretive, so they don’t draw attention to their nest; it is very rare that you will see a mother rabbit coming and going. The doe feeds her young only twice a day — at dusk and dawn.
It’s a good idea to check your yard before you mow; because rabbits are in shallow nests, it’s easy to mow the “top” off of their nest, possibly injuring babies. Do not attempt to mow within 10 feet of a rabbit’s nest if there are babies present. You can protect a nest during mowing by placing a plastic lattice laundry basket upside down over the nest. It’s best to remove the basket after mowing. Leave the nest area as undisturbed as possible while the young rabbits grow.
If the nest must continue to be protected, cut a hole in the laundry basket very close to ground level about 3-4 inches in diameter so that the mother rabbit can enter/exit from either side. If you have a dog who has access to the nest/basket, place a very heavy rock or object on the overturned laundry basket (not so heavy as to crush the basket). Once the babies are gone, the basket can be removed and the nest destroyed if you are trying to prevent the nest from being reused.
Fun Facts About Eastern Cottontails:
- The Wildlife Center treated 594 Eastern Cottontails in 2021. This was the most numerous mammal species admitted.
- Like deer, a female cottontail is called a “doe” and males are called “bucks”.
- If a rabbit is larger than a softball and weighs more than 4 ounces or 100 grams, it is on its and does not rely on care from the doe.
- Rabbits are a high-stress species prone to a condition called capture myopathy, which is caused by chase and stress. Never chase a rabbit to capture it, even if it’s injured and needs rescuing.