Eastern Cottontails make their nests in burrows, a depression in a garden and even in the middle of a lawn. The nest is usually covered with dried grass and bits of the mother’s fur.
Eastern Cottontail Rabbits are very difficult to raise in a rehabilitation setting due to their sensitive and delicate nature. The stress of captivity and human handling can be quite detrimental, and success rates are low. Letting mother take care of them naturally is their best chance at survival.
The good news is that a nest of cottontail rabbits in your yard is a temporary situation, lasting only about four weeks from birth.
An Eastern Cottontail Rabbit that is about four inches long, eyes open and ears erect is ready to be away from its mother and should be left alone.
When to Rescue
A mother rabbit leaves the nest during the day to draw attention away from the young. The mother usually returns when dark, at dusk and dawn, to nurse the bunnies so it is normal to never see the mother.
If you find or uncover a nest of cottontails and they show no signs of illness or injury, it is best to leave the babies where you found them and cover them back up with the nesting material. Moving a rabbit’s nest is not recommended since the mother might not find it.
To be sure the mother is coming back to feed them, place twigs on top of the whole nest in a criss-cross pattern. If the twigs have been moved after the next feeding time (dawn or dusk), the mother has returned to feed them. Their best chance for survival is to let the mother raise them, so keep children and pets away from them for this short time.
Co-existing with Baby Rabbits
If you need to let a pet out during the day, you can protect the nest by keeping your pet on leash, or covering the nest temporarily with a recycle bin or laundry basket and monitoring your pet. But remember not to leave the nest covered too long in warm weather.