Eastern cottontails are the most common rabbit species in the GTA. They frequently nest in urban and suburban areas, and their nests are typically shallow holes in the ground (or sometimes in planter boxes or wood chips). A mother rabbit covers her babies completely with grass and fur pulled from her body.
Newborn cottontails can be distinguished from other babies by their large ears, tiny tails, and large hind feet. Babies also often have a light-coloured stripe on their foreheads.
Baby rabbit colours
Once furred, baby cottontails are easy to identify—they look like small replicas of their parents, with brown fur flecked with black and grey.
Have I found a baby rabbit or a juvenile rabbit?
Babies begin to leave the nest on their own at a young age, when they are still no bigger than a hamster. At this stage they are no longer babies, but juveniles.
The rabbit can be considered a juvenile or adult if:
- Its body is at least 4 inches (10cm) long
- It has thick fluffy fur—its body should look like a round fluffy ball rather than sleek and narrow
- Its ears can stand up on its head (they do not lay flat all the time)
What’s normal for juvenile rabbits?
Juvenile rabbits leave the nest and are independent of their mother when they are still very small—about the size of a hamster. Although they may appear defenseless, it is normal for them to be on their own.
To find out whether a juvenile rabbit is OK to leave alone, look for the following signs:
- The rabbit is able to hop (as opposed to crawling with its belly against the ground)
- It can hop away quickly when approached
- It hasn’t been picked up by a dog or cat
- No one has fed the rabbit any milk, formula, or any other liquid by hand
- It appears healthy
If all of the above statements are true, the rabbit is likely fine and should be left alone or released where it was found if you have already contained it.
If any of the above statements are false, the rabbit may need help—you should contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further advice.
Keeping young cottontail rabbits and nests safe
While we may want to protect them, rabbits are vulnerable to predation throughout their lives and removing healthy babies from their natural environment can cause them a lot of harm, even if it is done with good intentions. “Rescuing” healthy babies that do not need our help is not a good solution. There are, however, actions we can take to help protect young rabbits from the threats they face in living near humans:
- Keep pet cats indoors
- Keep dogs on a leash and under supervision
- Limit or eliminate lawn mowing in areas where there may be juvenile rabbits