What To Do if You Disturb a Baby Rabbit Nest Outside

Your heart skips a beat as you spot a tiny furry creature dart across your yard. You rush over and gasp as you uncover a hidden nest of baby rabbits, trembling with eyes clenched shut! Do you attempt to rescue them? Flee the scene? Take them home as pets? Stay calm! Though startling, encountering a bunny nest can be handled humanely with care and caution. This discovery need not end tragically. Follow our guidelines to ensure the best outcome for both fragile babies and distressed mother. With some quiet observation and a call to wildlife experts, you can help restart the rabbits’ normal routine and avoid further disturbance. Read on to learn the proper response when you stumble upon nature’s nursery.

What to do if you disturb a wild rabbit nest

If you accidentally disturb a wild rabbit nest, it's important not to panic. Baby rabbits (called kittens) are extremely fragile, and improper handling can cause serious injury or death. Here are some tips on what to do if you come across a nest of baby rabbits outside:

First, observe the nest from a distance. If the mother is not present, step away and allow her to return. Mother cottontails only visit their nests twice a day to avoid attracting predators. She may be off finding food and will likely return shortly if given the chance. Monitor the nest for 4-6 hours before considering any intervention.

Do not touch or move the babies if at all possible. Mother rabbits do not abandon their young simply because humans have touched them, but moving nests can still cause the mother to reject the babies. If the nest is in an unsafe location, see the tips below on moving nests.

Cover up or fill in holes and mark the area so no future accidents happen in the same spot. Check where you step when doing yard work and gardening. Nests are disguised to blend into the environment, so look under brush piles, in tall grass or weedy areas that provide cover.

Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice if the babies appear injured or distressed. Licensed rehabbers have the training and resources to give orphaned or injured rabbits the best chance of survival. Avoid attempting to care for wild rabbits on your own unless there is no other option.

With some caution and observation, you can usually avoid disturbing rabbit nests. However, accidents do happen, so follow these rules to give the best outcome for both mother and babies. Monitor from a distance, don't move or touch the nest, and contact an expert for help when needed.

Avoid moving the nest to a different location

If you find a baby rabbit nest, resist the urge to move it somewhere else. Well-meaning people often attempt to relocate rabbit nests to areas they deem "safer," but this often does much more harm than good. Here's why you should avoid moving a baby rabbit nest:

  • The mother will not be able to find and care for her babies. Wild rabbits have very specific territory and returning to the exact nest site is essential for finding their young. Even moving a nest just a few feet makes it almost impossible for the mother to locate.

  • You do not know what areas are truly safe. Rabbits choose nest sites that provide optimal protection from predators and the elements. Their survival in the wild depends on using the best nesting spots. Other locations you move them to are unlikely to be as suitable.

  • Moving the babies risks injury and death. Very young rabbits cannot maintain their own body heat. Keeping them stationary in the nest is critical so the mother can return to feed and care for them. Exposing them to lower temperatures while moving the nest can be fatal.

  • Human scent discourages the mother. If you handle the babies and move the nest, the mother may sense human scent and abandon the nest. It's best not to touch the bunnies if possible.

The rare exception is if the nest is in imminent danger – such as the middle of a driveway or sidewalk. In that case, move it only as far as needed to very close shelter in the immediate vicinity. Otherwise, the mother truly does know best in picking the nest site. Trust her judgment and avoid relocating the babies.

What does a wild rabbit nest look like?

A wild rabbit's nest is designed to be inconspicuous to protect the vulnerable young inside. Here are some tips on recognizing a baby rabbit nest:

  • Shallow depression in the ground around 2-3 inches deep, usually longer than wide. The nest is not an underground burrow or tunnel.

  • Lined with grass, leaves, fur, or other insulating material. The mother rabbit pulls fur from her chest to soften the nest.

  • Dome shaped and covered over the top. Mother cottontails return and pull grass over the top of the nest to hide it.

  • Tufts of fur sticking out from the nest are a giveaway. This is fur the mother rabbit lined the nest with.

  • Look near shrubs, bushes, woodpiles, tall grass or weedy areas. Rabbits choose well-covered locations away from the open.

  • The mother rabbit rests over the nest when feeding the babies. She may be scared away when you approach, revealing the nest.

  • No activity if babies are less than two weeks old. Young rabbits stay silent and still to remain hidden.

The nest is purposely hidden, so look for small clues like bits of fur. Carefully inspect areas where you know rabbits are active. If in doubt, wait and watch to see if a mother rabbit returns before disturbing a nest.

Why do rabbits have surface nests? Don't they dig tunnels?

Unlike their burrowing relatives, cottontail rabbits and hares do not dig extensive underground tunnels and nests. Here's why:

  • Lack of digging adaptations. Unlike pikas, prairie dogs, and moles, rabbits have hind feet adapted for running and jumping, not digging.

  • Temporary shelter. Rabbits only use nests until the babies are weaned and ready to disperse. A burrow system would be more work for short-term use.

  • Safety. Deep burrows can flood during rain or trap rabbits with predators. Surface nests allow quick escape.

  • Instinct. Evolution has programmed wild rabbit behavior to create surface nests rather than burrows.

  • Concealment. While open, rabbit nests are very well camouflaged and covered to hide from predators.

  • Mobility. Young rabbits need to be able to quickly leave the nest once they mature enough to graze and evade predators.

  • Solitary. Rabbits are solitary creatures and don't share interconnected burrows like prairie dogs or mole rats. A simple surface nest meets their needs.

The shallow, domed nest covered in grass or vegetation provides just what wild rabbits need – quick concealment and shelter for raising a litter of bunnies. Their natural instincts guide them to create simple but effective surface nests.

Safety when handling wild rabbits

Wild rabbits are very delicate, stressed animals. If a baby rabbit requires help, follow these rules to ensure its safety:

  • Avoid handling if possible. Human scent and touch can distress wild rabbits. Use gloves if needing to interact with them.

  • Lift properly. Pick up baby rabbits by cupping both hands around their body, supporting the chest and hindquarters at the same time. Never lift by ears, legs or scruff.

  • Prevent injury. Keep rabbits away from household pets. Do not give them cow's milk, which can be fatal. Keep them in a quiet, warm, dark area.

  • Monitor for illness. Look for any bleeding, diarrhea, nasal discharge, crusty eyes, loss of appetite or lethargy. Seek vet care if concerned.

  • Give proper nutrition. Supply specialty rabbit formula and alfalfa hay for orphaned wild rabbits. Mix formula according to instructions.

  • Rehydrate if needed. Give warm, unflavored Pedialyte by dropper for dehydrated rabbits, but avoid force feeding. Let them drink it voluntarily.

  • Allow exercise. Provide a small enclosure for baby rabbits to hop as they mature, but prevent escape. Supervise interaction with humans.

  • Release ASAP. Wild rabbits imprint very easily to humans. Work with rehabilitators to release back to the wild once old enough to survive, usually around 8-12 weeks.

With specialized care, young rabbits can survive the critical first few weeks. Always get professional wildlife advice to ensure you handle and return them to the wild safely.

What to do if the baby rabbits are injured?

Though disturbing a rabbit nest should be avoided, sometimes accidents happen, or babies may be found that are injured or ill. Here are the steps to take if you encounter injured baby rabbits:

  • Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Do not attempt to treat wild animals on your own. Rehabbers have resources to properly assess and care for rabbit kits.

  • Look for any bleeding, broken bones, trauma, oozing wounds, maggots, head tilt, inability to hop properly, swollen eyes, or lethargy. Also watch for signs of dehydration.

  • Keep the rabbits warm, quiet and contained away from pets if rehabber cannot immediately take them. Use a blanket-lined box or carrier with air holes. Do not give food or water.

  • Do not put ointment, water, food, or medication on wounds. This can do more harm than good. Let rehabbers properly clean and dress injuries.

  • Handle with extreme care, as rabbits are very fragile. Do not apply pressure to wounds or broken bones. cup both hands fully around the body when lifting.

  • Keep the rabbit in isolation from any other animals, including other rescued rabbits. Sick or injured rabbits need quiet rest.

  • Get the rabbits medical care as soon as possible. Injuries and illness can rapidly deteriorate a rabbit's condition. Time is critical.

With specialized vet treatment overseen by licensed rehabbers, injured baby rabbits do have a chance of survival and potential release back to the wild. Don't attempt to treat them yourself, but quickly get them to experts.

Preventing injury in the future

If you find a nest on your property, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid disturbing it in the future:

  • Mark or flag the area so you can avoid it. Keep any landscaping or digging far away.

  • Cover up holes or gaps baby rabbits could fall into. Check window wells, under porches, near foundations or fences.

  • Keep the lawn longer in sections for added cover. Don't mow nesting areas during spring and summer.

  • Do not use pesticides or insecticides near nesting zones. Chemicals are very dangerous to young rabbits.

  • Keep pets like dogs or cats away from the nest, leashed if necessary. Many pet rabbits are still instinctively aware of wild bunnies.

  • Check where you step when doing yard work. Wear thick shoes or boots that won't accidentally crush a hidden nest.

  • Don't stack wood or debris directly on the nest site. Rabbits often reuse the same nesting spots annually.

  • Place a wildlife warning sign or temporary fencing if needed to keep the area undisturbed.

  • Trim back branches or brush only as needed. Rabbits rely on thick vegetation for cover.

With some awareness, you can usually spot the signs of rabbit nests and prevent tragic losses. Always observe first before doing work in suitable rabbit habitat during breeding season.

Will the mother abandon a disturbed rabbit nest?

A common myth about wild rabbits is that the mother will abandon the nest if humans touch the babies. Here is some information on the reality:

  • Nursing rabbits leave the nest multiple times a day naturally. As long as the nest remains intact, the doe will return to nurse even if you've handled the babies.

  • There is no evidence that rabbits can smell human scent or are driven away by it. Studies show nursing does returned to nests even after being touched by humans.

  • Stress, however, can cause the mother to stay away. Loud noises, dogs, or too much disturbance might keep her from returning for a time.

  • Moving the nest makes it almost impossible for the doe to find and return to the babies. This is the biggest risk if humans intervene.

  • Directly observing the nest may make the doe nervous to approach. Quietly watching from a distance is better if checking for her return.

  • Baby rabbits that have been moved may also wander from the nest, reducing chances of reuniting.

So while direct handling does not always cause abandonment, it's ideal to minimize interaction. If the nest can be left undisturbed, the mother will almost always return to take care of her young. Avoid stressing the area and limit damage to the nest site itself.

How to feed orphaned or injured baby rabbits

If baby rabbits have been separated from their mother, they'll require a specialized feeding regimen to stay healthy. Here are some guidelines:

  • Use rabbit-specific formula, not cow's milk or electrolyte solution. Milk-based formulas labeled for cottontail rabbits or hares are ideal.

  • Feed with a small pet nurser or syringe, not a bowl. Avoid aspiration of fluid into the lungs.

  • Allow rabbits to ingest voluntarily. Do not force food into their mouth. Stop feeding if they refuse to suckle.

  • Feed according to age. Young infants need formula every 2-3 hours. Increase to 3-4 times daily at 2-3 weeks old.

  • Introduce timothy hay, greens and pelleted feed around 3-4 weeks old as their digestive system matures. Supply fresh water.

  • Mix formula following label directions. Do not over-dilute or make too concentrated. Discard any unused mixed formula after feeding.

  • Warm formula to about 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Test on wrist before feeding. Do not microwave directly.

  • Stimulate genitals with warm, damp cloth after feeding to encourage urination and bowel movements.

  • Keep rabbits on soft blankets in a quiet, warm enclosure. Monitor for illness and take to a wildlife rehabilitator if any concerns.

With attentive, specialized care following these guidelines, orphaned wild rabbits can survive and eventually return to the wild if given the chance.


Rabbit nests are a common and joyful sign of spring. With some care and caution, you can minimize disturbing wild rabbits during this critical phase of breeding season. Monitor nests from a distance, refrain from intervening when possible, and promptly contact experts if any orphaned or injured rabbits are found. With public education and attentive land management, we can prevent tragic losses and allow cottontails to thrive in our backyards. Be proactive, be compassionate, and enjoy observing nature's nurseries at work!

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