Keeping Wild Bunnies
Every Spring, we seem to have litters of rabbits that show up in our backyard. We never see the mother and often need to move them as they are in the way of our lawnmower. The children would like to keep one or two for a pet this year. Will they live in captivity?
Baby rabbits, as delicate as they look, are really very hardy creatures. It does seem that these mothers find very strange places to put their nests sometimes. A little known fact is that a mother rabbit's milk has the highest fat and nutrient content of any species and for this reason, they can feed their babies and then leave them for an extended period of time. They may only visit their young once or twice in a 24-hour period. Whereas a mother bird will often come and attack you if you go near their young, a mother rabbit will high tail it for the safest tree or bush and keep a vigilant watch until the coast is clear. It is an old wive's tail that she will no longer care for the little ones if they have been touched by humans. They will return, but may move them if they sense there is danger. If you need to move a nest due to the family pet or it being in a high traffic location, find a location close by and take the whole nest of bunny fur and grass that has been so diligently placed. Baby rabbits mature quickly and will be ready to leave the nest usually within about two weeks. When they are at the point of hopping around on their own, they are eating grass and no longer rely on mom. Often, homeowners are positive that there is no safe place to put these little critters and will insist on taking them in. These are wild animals and it is illegal to keep them unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The other important point here is to know that even the most experienced "rehabbers" have a tough time keeping these little ones alive. Their best chance of survival is really out in their home environment, as scary as that may seem to us. Your local veterinarian or DNR office will have the name of people in your area who have worked with young rabbits, and know the right foods and handling techniques to help them live to a point where they can be on their own. Remember that if you have an area they seem to return to, you can also simply fence it off for just a few short weeks until the bunnies are old enough to leave, a small price to pay for enjoying that bit of nature in your backyard!