Most of the wild rabbits found in the GTA are “Eastern cottontails” (we may occasionally see Snowshoe hares in the north). Cottontails commonly nest in backyards, parks, and other urban locations. Rabbit nests are typically a shallow depression in the ground covered with dried grass and tufts of fur, just enough to cover the babies and keep them warm. The mother spends very little time with the babies, and may only come back to feed them a couple of times a night. If you’re worried the babies might be orphaned, check our page on baby rabbits for more information.
Mother rabbits choose their nest sites
We may have trouble understanding why a mother rabbit would choose to nest in a backyard with big dogs in it, on a grassy island in a busy parking lot, or in the flower bed next to a noisy school yard. But rabbits are a prey species, and avoiding natural predators is what they do best. While the above examples may seem dangerous to us, they are all areas where a baby rabbit nest is very unlikely to be found by a raccoon, a fox, or an outdoor cat. Often, by the time the nest is discovered by dogs or schoolchildren, the rabbits are already over two weeks old!
Leave rabbit nests alone, and be patient
Mother rabbits can be very sensitive to changes around the nest site, so the best thing is to leave a rabbit nest alone. If the nest is moved even a few feet, the mother will abandon it. Cottontail babies grow up quickly and start to leave their nest as early as 3 weeks of age. They may be independent of their mother by the time they’re only as big as your fist!
Because the timeframe is so short, we recommend trying to minimize danger until the babies are old enough to leave the nest on their own. Keep dogs on a leash. Cordon off the part of the schoolyard that the nest is in. Put up signs around the parking island to discourage people from cutting across. Remember that the babies will be gone in a week or two—it may be inconvenient, but letting them stay with their mother is the best and kindest thing to do!
Deterring rabbits from nesting in the future
If you would like to discourage rabbits from nesting in your yard in the future, make the area unappealing. Wait until any existing baby rabbits have grown up and left the nest before trying any of these techniques. Rabbits are a prey species, so they are easily frightened and wary of changes in their environment.
Place unfamiliar visual stimuli around the area, such as beach balls (they bounce around in the wind), shiny colourful pinwheels, or colourful foil balloons. Empty beer or pop bottles buried up to their necks in the ground will make a scary whistling noise when the wind blows. A motion-sensing sprinkler can work well to deter rabbits and other animals. Mesh bags, like the ones onions come in, can be filled with pet fur or human hair from your brush, and hung at rabbit eye level.
Be creative! Visual deterrents are very effective at keeping cottontail rabbits away.