(Photo courtesy of Mary Thomas)
With spring just about in full swing, you've probably turned your attention to your yard, getting it in order for the year. Before getting the lawnmower out for the first cutting of the season, you may want to give your yard a good once-over to make sure it's free of cottontail rabbit nests to avoid any unnecessary trauma — for you and the baby rabbits.
Rabbit nests often look just like a small patch of dead grass on your lawn. That's because the mother rabbit makes her nest by digging a small hole in the ground and then covering it with grass, leaves and other plant material to help protect the babies, Wildlife Illinois reports.
The babies are right under that protective layer of grass and plant matter, making them particularly vulnerable to our lawn mowers. Check out this video from Ontario Wildlife Removal to see what a rabbit's nest may look like in your yard:
If you have a rabbit nest in your yard, do not disturb it. People often think the babies have been abandoned, but the mother rabbit usually only visits the babies to nurse them twice a day — once in the morning and once in the evening, according to Wildlife Illinois. This helps protect the babies, called kits, from predators.
If you find a rabbit nest, be mindful when cutting your grass, and keep your pets away from them too. To keep dogs and other pets away from a rabbit's nest, place an upside down laundry basket over it, then place a brick or another heavy object on top of it, the University of Illinois Wildlife Veterinary Clinic advises. Take the basket off in the evening so the mother can return to feed the babies.
Baby cottontails are born hairless and blind, but grow quickly. After a week, they open their eyes. By two weeks old, they start leaving the nest for short periods to feed on nearby grasses and plants, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. By about three weeks old, they may spend most of their day out of the nest, and after about a month they leave the nest for good.
Once the babies have left the nest, the mother is often ready to have another litter — hence the phrase "breeding like rabbits." Female cottontail rabbits typically have at least three litters each year, with each litter containing four to six babies, Wildlife Illinois reports.
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Because rabbits reproduce all spring and summer, early spring isn't the only time to check your yard for nests. The nesting season for cottontails continues through September, and rabbits may reuse the same nest multiple times or dig new ones in your yard, IDNR advises.
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