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Put those bunnies back!

A litter of eastern cottontail rabbits at Wildwoods (Photo: Wildwoods)

It's spring and you're enjoying the nice weather, working in the yard. Perhaps you're raking, mowing or getting the garden ready when you disturb a patch of dead grass. And underneath that little clump of dead grass you find a nest of tiny baby bunnies.

Your reaction may be, "Are they OK? Now that I've disturbed the nest, have I scared off the mom for good? What should I do?"

You may also wonder, "What about my dog? Will he find these little guys and snack on them? It's his yard, too, and I can't just keep him cooped up indoors."

Another thought/impulse might be, "OMG, these little guys are so adorable! How fun would it be for me and the kids to raise a few of these cute little furballs, then either keep them as pets or release them? The kids would learn about nature, and it would be so incredibly rewarding."

If you're a serious gardener fending off bunny incursions into your flowers or veggies, you might think, "Darn bunnies! I'm so tired of them eating everything!" And you might have the impulse to commit bunny-cide.

First, it takes a lot to deter a mother bunny (or any mother) from caring for her babies. Briefly disturbing the nest will not scare her off. Even though you don't see her, she is near. She will come for a few minutes around dawn and again around dusk to feed her babies incredibly rich rabbit milk. When she is not feeding them, she stays away from the nest so she will not draw predators to it.

Put the bunny (if you removed one) back into the nest and replace the covering of dead grass and bunny fur. If you want to know for sure that mom is coming back, take several pieces of string and make a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest. If it's disturbed the next morning, mom has been back to feed her babies. If not, call a wildlife rehabilitation organization like Wildwoods.

Next, your dog. Since bunnies mature very quickly, you won't have to worry about safeguarding the nest from him for more than about two weeks. Then the bunnies will be out and on their own.

During that two weeks, there are several options. The best is to keep Rover leashed and away from the nest during the times he's outside to relieve himself. You can also secure the nest with temporary fencing. Or, you can put a sturdy laundry basket upside down over the nest and weigh it down with books, if he's just a small dog or a puppy not strong enough to move it. Move the fencing or basket just before dusk and then put it up around 8 a.m. the next morning so the mother can feed her babies.

How about the bunny-raising project? Baby bunnies are among the most challenging animals to raise. They strike fear into the hearts of even the most skilled wildlife rehabilitators. Occasionally members of the public will succeed in raising a few, but this is very unusual. It will be a sad lesson for your kid as bunny after bunny sickens and dies. Please don't attempt this.

What if you find a nest and you don't care much for bunnies? You live in the Northland, so chances are you appreciate some, if not all, of the wildlife with whom we share our yards and other space.

How do you feel about hawks? Owls? Foxes? Bunnies are at the bottom of the food chain. Even if we don't appreciate them for themselves, most of us can appreciate the wide variety of other animals they sustain.

For those of us who love our yards, gardens and landscaping, it's important to accept that we will never achieve a bunny-free or deer-free environment, nor should we want to. We live in a very wild area and there are critters everywhere. It's up to us to fence off and protect succulent garden veggies and other bunny- and deer- vulnerable plants.

So love the bunnies and appreciate them for who they are ... from a distance. And please, put the bunny back.

Peggy Farr is a volunteer and board member of Wildwoods and works in human health care.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

Peggy Farr

Peggy Farr is a volunteer and board member of Wildwoods and works in human health care.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

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