Cottontail Situations & Solutions

Rabbit © Frank Vitale
© Frank Vitale

While rabbits generally steer clear of people, they can damage gardens. 

In Your Garden

Cottontails don’t dig in the soil for bulbs or roots to eat, but they still pose a problem in the garden. Foliage that has been nipped off sharply, leaving no ragged edges, is usually the result of rabbit nibbling. Options for keeping rabbits from eating your flowers, fruits, and veggies include:

  • Spreading dried blood fertilizer around your flowerbeds or vegetable garden.
  • Removing any piles of brush and debris that might serve as cover.
  • Placing an inexpensive two-foot-high fence of chicken wire (one-inch mesh is needed to keep out the smallest rabbits) around the garden with the bottom tight to the ground or buried underground a few inches.
  • Protecting ornamental shrubs by surrounding them with quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth that extends higher than the rabbit can reach when snow is on the ground.

Nests in Your Yard

It is not uncommon for homeowners to come across nests, baby rabbits, or injured rabbits in yards. 

If a nest is discovered, the easiest solution is to tolerate its brief presence. Young rabbits leave the nest about two weeks after birth. Don’t attempt to relocate a nest; it’s highly unlikely that the mother cottontail will succeed in finding it.

To protect the nest from lawn mowers, place three-foot high stakes in a circle, at least eight feet from the nest, and attach “caution tape” to each stake. This provides a better solution than fencing because the nest area remains visible and the movement of the young is not restricted. Also, keep pets and children away.

If a baby rabbit is removed from a nest by a person or pet, immediately return the cottontail to the nest. Wear gloves and handle the animal as little as possible to avoid transferring odor to it. If the rabbit has been handled, rub a large handful of grass between your hands until it’s juicy and then wipe your hands on the rabbit’s head, back, and tail back before placing it back in the nest. Hopefully this will conceal any human odor.

If a rabbit appears in good health and is four or more inches long, return it to where it was found or move it to an area in the yard with shrubbery or uncut grass.

An injured rabbit should be evaluated by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Attempts by non-professionals to rear young mammals, especially rabbits, nearly always end in failure, prolonged suffering for the animal, and unnecessary grief for the people involved.

Cottontails and Rabies

All mammals, including cottontails, are susceptible to rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is invariably fatal to wildlife. Learn More