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Northwoods Wildlife Rescue: Four common myths about cottontails

There are many myths about bunnies, says wildlife rehabilitator Julie Dickie.

Cottontails are coming! This is the time of year that baby cottontail bunnies are born.
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The weather we have been waiting for is finally here. Soon to follow is the lawn mowing and other yard maintenance that comes with spring weather.

This is the time of year that baby cottontail bunnies are born.

There are many myths about bunnies.


Cottontails are coming! This is the time of year that baby cottontail bunnies are born.

Myth No. 1: They have their bunnies in deep rabbit holes.

Quite the opposite. Mama bunny builds a shallow nest, often not much deeper than a depression in the ground covered with leaves and twigs. The nests are usually found along driveways, tree lines, in the middle of the yard and of course in your garden.

Myth No. 2: If you pick the bunny up, Mama bunny will reject it.

It is not good to handle baby bunnies for a lot of good reasons. They can carry disease to us, and we can carry disease to them. They have a very sensitive (weak) immune system and are very susceptible to germs and bacteria. Your presence can also scare mama into moving her babies and sometimes some can be left behind. Your scent on the baby will not keep mama from raising it.

Myth No. 3: Wild bunnies make good pets.


There is a big difference between wild bunnies and domestic bunnies. Wild bunnies do not make good pets. They bite! They are also difficult to keep alive when they are young. They need a lot of special care to build their immune system.

Myth No. 4: The mother stays with the nest to guard the babies.

The mama bunny generally only visits the nest two times a day. She will feed the babies around daybreak and then again around dusk. She does not stay with the nest, nor does she visit it often, as that would attract predators to the nest. She quickly nurses them and leaves the nest.

We get many calls about what to do when a nest is disturbed or destroyed. It happens; don’t panic. If the babies look uninjured, just put the nest back together as best you can and leave the babies alone.

If your pet dog or cat has found the nest, they will keep going back to it. You will need to put up a barrier to keep them away from the nest. Just make sure mama can get to it.

If a pet has picked up or brought you one of the babies, carefully check it for injuries. If it appears uninjured gently wipe it off with a warm, moist towel or rag and put them back in the nest.

Babies that have been in a cat’s or dog’s mouth do not do well because of the bacteria in the saliva. That is why it should be wiped off gently to get as much of the saliva off the skin and or fur. Make sure it is warm – not hot – as they get cold pretty fast.


If the bunny is injured, or you cannot locate the nest, it should be taken to a licensed rehabilitator. Do not try to feed it or give it water.

If the nest is in an area that creates a problem – sometimes they build them in the worst spots – you can move the entire nest of babies to a better location, close to the original location. For example, if the nest is in the area you mow, you can easily move it 10 or 20 feet to an area you do not mow. The new site should be in view of the old site.

Baby bunnies leave the nest and venture off on their own pretty quickly. If you have a bunny nest and you have cats or dogs, the best thing you can do is keep them inside or on a lease for just a few weeks.

Julie Dickie is a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator in northern Minnesota. Her nonprofit organization, Northwoods Wildlife Rescue, captures and releases all manner of wounded creatures. Julie and her husband, Jeff, are unpaid volunteers.

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