Rabbit facts and common myths

There are so many things to learn about this wonderful creature, it’s impossible to go through every quirky fact, detail and myth. For instance, some rabbits don’t actually like carrots, and rabbits don’t “walk,” but move around on their tiptoes when they aren’t hopping; and it’s true that their teeth never stop growing. There’s a long list. The key is to keep informed, do your homework, and visit sites like houserabbit.org.

The biggest myth, however seems to be that a nest of wild bunnies without a mother around is doomed for death. This is not true.

Here’s a common scenario: A neighbor calls – frantic. “There’s a nest of abandoned baby bunnies under the tree in our yard. We looked for the mama everywhere, but she’s gone. Should we take them inside and bottle feed them?” No, and no.

Here are the steps one needs to take when finding an “abandoned” nest of baby rabbits:

• If they’re covered in nesting material and grouped together, do not touch them. Leave them alone.

• If they have separated from one another or are out of the nest altogether, rub your hands in the mother’s fur. It lines the nest. This is to conceal your scent.

• Put them back in the center of the nest grouped closely together for body warmth, and cover them with the mother’s fur. The fur will be mixed in with the nesting material. Cold is a killer.

• Wait for mother rabbit to return (watching through a window, of course).

The truth is, mother rabbits will leave their babies alone all day. This isn’t abandonment; it’s a basic survival instinct. A rabbit’s milk is so rich that the babies require only one feeding, and this feeding is normally done at night. She leaves them safe and warm in a nest of her fur during the day. That way, predators will be less likely to catch the delicious scent of a warm-blooded rabbit dinner. The scent is stronger on mama bunny than on her tiny, naked offspring. So, during the day, a wild mother rabbit leaves her offspring alone in order to draw predators away from the nest. Even a domestic rabbit stays on the opposite end of her hutch all day, away from her young, without so much as a glance in their direction. It’s simple instinct.

According to myth, and cartoons, animals spring from the womb wholly formed with a song on their lips and a spring in their step. But, in the real world, newborn bunnies are totally helpless. Naked, blind, deaf, mute and having survived the hazards of birth and a sometimes-cannibalistic mother, they move very little during the day. Wandering away from the warmth of the others and the mother’s covering fur means almost certain death from cold, even in the heat of summer. This is another reason mama bunny primarily leaves during daylight hours – for the heat the sun might provide if a baby wanders away from the warmth of the others. And, mother’s milk is a very hard thing to reproduce, indeed, even if you were to try to bottle feed them.

So leave them where you found them. Chances are they will be fine.

Who knows? One day soon you will be the one with the frightened neighbor calling for advice; and now you’ll know just what to do.


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