A shallow hole in the ground. A covering made from loose grass and soft fur. And a handful of baby rabbits with closed eyes, wiggly noses, and delicate little bodies.

rabbits nest

Even when the discovery of a rabbit’s nest comes as a bit of a shock, most people are much happier to discover baby bunnies on their property than, say, baby opossums or raccoons. Still, humans who find them are often left wondering how to proceed. Should they just leave the kits alone? Should they actively guard the nest until the mother returns? Should they assume that the babies are orphans and therefore need assistance?

The answer is a bit complicated, so here’s a step-by-step guide:

(1) Check for any obvious signs of injury

This is especially important if it was your dog who first found and uncovered the babies, as even the friendliest pooches can accidentally harm tiny animals when they get excited! Before you do anything else, take a quick peek at the little ones to make sure that everyone’s okay. Red flags include:

  • Bleeding wounds.
  • Twisted or gnarled limbs.
  • Frequent crying or whining, especially when they’re touched.

If nothing seems amiss and all of the kits look healthy and content, you can proceed to Step 2. If someone is injured, or one of the babies is actually dead, then skip directly to Step 4.

(2) Fix the nest.

The good news is that, even if you don’t see the mother rabbit around, the kits are probably not orphaned or abandoned. Mother rabbits tend to leave their babies unattended for long periods of time, only returning a twice a day (at dawn and dusk) to feed, groom, and check up on them. You could have a nest of kits in your backyard for weeks and never once see their mom!

So, unless you’re certain that there’s a problem, the best thing you can do is try to restore the nursery to the way it was before someone disturbed it. Put the babies back (if they’ve been picked up and handled) and try to find the grass/fur drape that originally hid them. Either cover them with that, or—if it’s been destroyed—just shred some dry grass and camouflage the babies as best as you can.

Don’t hang around the any nest longer than you need to. While it’s not true that mother rabbits will reject their babies if humans or dogs leave their scent on them, you run the risk of attracting undue attention to the area. And doing so may encourage animals (especially predators) to come take a look, putting the kits in real danger. Just take care of business and then walk away!

(3) Make a Mark

You can, in good conscience, be “done” with the nest at this point, and that’s an easy attitude to have if the nest was in the woods or some kind of public area. But if the nest was in your yard or garden, then you may have a burning desire to continue to see to the kits’ safety and well-being.

Don’t try to monitor the nest 24/7; this will almost certainly do more harm than good. What you can do is take measures to verify that the mother is still checking on the nest as usual. Here are two common tricks:

  • Take a few pieces of unflavored dental floss and very gently lay them over the nest in the shape of an “X” or a tic-tac-toe board / hashtag.
  • Sprinkle a small circle of unscented baking soda on the grass around (not on!) the nest.

The following morning or evening, take a quick peek at the nest to see if the floss or baking soda has been disturbed. If it has, then you’ll know that Mama Rabbit came by and everything is fine. If your marks are still pristine, though, then something might be wrong.

(4) If Worse Comes to Worst…

Unfortunately, Mother Nature can be a harsh mistress, so it’s entirely possible that the kits are orphaned. And if the kits are still so young that they’re dependent on their mother, then they likely won’t survive without human intervention. Signs that it may be time to take action include:

  • The floss or baking soda remains completely undisturbed for more than a day or two.
  • One or more kits is visibly injured (refer back to Step 1) or dead.
  • You find a dead adult rabbit relatively close to the nest.
  • The babies appear weak, lethargic, or skinny.
  • Checking the babies right after sunrise reveals sunken-in, empty bellies. A kit that has just been fed will have a round, full belly.
  • A skin-pinch test suggests that the babies are dehydrated. Remember: if you gently pinch the skin on the scruff of a kit’s neck, the skin should “snap back” into place immediately. If it remains pinched or tented, then the kit isn’t getting enough fluids.

Keep in mind that just one of these problems alone isn’t enough to warrant a “rescue;” there are many different reasons besides parental abandonment that baby bunnies sometimes fail to thrive. However, if the kits are obviously in distress and just getting worse, then being raised and rehabilitated by humans may really be their only hope.

If it’s absolutely necessary, gather up the kits and as much of the original nest as you can. Place them in a small box with a lid (and air holes), and bring them inside so that they can stay warm and safe. Give first aid to anyone who’s bleeding.

(5) …Call in an Expert

Unless you’re a trained professional or have a lot of experience in this department, do not attempt to foster the kits yourself! Baby bunnies are notoriously difficult to hand-rear. Even expert care and supervision won’t guarantee (or give them a very high probability) of survival. And don’t even think about keeping them as pets! They’re wild animals who will never be fully content with living in captivity.

If you really want to give them a fighting chance, then call animal control or a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center in your area. Explain the situation; they’ll be able to give you advice and, more than likely, take the bunnies off of your hands so that they can be cared for properly. With hard work (and a bit of luck), the kits will be able to return to the wild within a week or two!


No doubt about it: baby rabbits are super cute, and the nests that their mothers build for them can be fascinating to look at. When you come across a bunny nursery, your first instinct may be to interact with the kits or even try to “adopt” them. But please resist the urge to do this! As with most forms of wildlife, keeping your distance is usually the best thing you can do for them.

…Unless, of course, they overstay their welcome. In that case, it’s probably best for everyone if you have the little critters relocated!

Photo courtesy of Chepner on Flickr