Once spring arrives, so do the phone calls about orphaned or abandoned rabbits in the wild, and occasionally someone shows up with a baby they think needs to be rescued. Usually, people are unfamiliar with how rabbits behave in the wild, and their concern for an animal’s wellbeing prompts them to do what may not be in the best interest of the babies. Hopefully, this information will help you know when to worry, and when, or if, you need to intervene.
Once a rabbit has babies, the mother ensures their safety by staying away from the nest unless she is feeding them. She will come only once or twice a day, usually after dark, to feed the babies before going off again. This way, she doesn’t lead a predator to the nest. This means, that most of the time you will never see a mother rabbit caring for her young. Many people stumble across a rabbit nest and mistakenly believe it is abandoned, when really the mother is just protecting them the best way she can.
If you find a nest with babies inside, do your best not to disturb it, and if it has been disturbed you can cover it back up to hide the babies from view. The mother will return for them. If you fear that something may have happened to the mother, you can lay a few threads across the nest in an x-pattern so that when the mother returns she will disturb the strings. If the threads are not disturbed, this does not necessarily mean the mother has not visited. If the babies are content with full bellies there’s no need to worry. Usually when you see a baby rabbit outside of the nest it is old enough to care for itself.
If you are certain that the babies have been abandoned or orphaned, then and only then should you intervene. The important thing to know is that you cannot attempt to raise them yourself. It is illegal in Virginia to rehabilitate wildlife without a license, not to mention that they need special nutrients and very carefully scheduled feedings. Most baby rabbits, if not raised by a professional rehabilitator, will die. There are great rehabilitators in our area, and you can find them listed on the website here. They will then give you instructions on how to transport the babies. This gives them the best chance of survival until they can be rereleased to the wild where they can lead a happy and prosperous rabbit life.