Baby cottontail rabbits are frequent victims of kidnapping. A mother cottontail only visits her young twice a day, once at dawn and once at dusk, so baby rabbits are often mistaken for being orphaned when they’re actually just fine.
Like all animals, a baby cottontail rabbit’s best chance of survival is always with its natural parents, and they are best left alone. Some exceptions occur when:
- The bunny has been caught by a cat. Even if there are no visible puncture wounds, cat bites are essentially always fatal to wild rabbits unless they are treated immediately with appropriate antibiotics. Any rabbit that has been in a cat’s mouth needs a rehabilitator.
- The babies are clearly weak or starving. It may sound hard to identify, since rabbits are naturally helpless at birth, but you’ll know it when you see it! Weak, starving baby rabbits may look shriveled or have disproportionately large heads. They will feel cold to the touch. (It is okay to carefully touch the bunny to see if it feels cold.)
- The best had been destroyed and the mother hasn’t returned. You can normally return bunnies to their nest even after it has been disturbed by a lawn mower, but if you do this and the mother still hasn’t come back, it may be time to get a rehabilitator. You can gently place string in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the kits to see if it is still in place after 12 hours. Note, though, that some mother rabbits have actually been recorded feeding their young without a trace!
- The bunny has been injured by a lawnmower. Lawnmowers and weed eaters are a major cause of death for baby bunnies. Even if the injury looks superficial, most cuts by lawn equipment need medical care. It is best to call a rehabilitator just in case.
- The bunny is smaller than a baseball and out of its nest. Baby rabbits are independent starting when they’re somewhere between the size of a baseball and a softball. If you see a very small baby bunny that is in a place that is clearly not in a nest— especially a sidewalk or road— please reach out for help.