Does the baby need help?
Mothers only return to the nest about 2 times a day, usually at night. You probably will not see her. If you find a nest, leave the bunnies in the nest. Place yarn or a twig on the nest, or sprinkle flour around the nest. If the yarn or twig has been moved, or if footprints are seen in the flour, after 12 to 24 hours, then the mother is tending to the nest. You can also check the bunnies to see that they are warm and hydrated, and you could look for a ‘milk spot’–a white oval in the abdominal area. These are all another indication that the mother has been to the nest, and is feeding and caring for her young.
If a bunny is not cold, is fully furred, eyes open, and not in danger from pets, it has a better chance on its own than with human care.
If you have to chase it, it does not need to be rescued. If it is in danger of pets (not other wild animals as predator-prey reactions are necessary for ecological balance), then place a laundry basket over the nest during the day and secure it with a heavy object. Remove the basket at night so that the mother can feed her young, and then replace the basket in the morning. Continue this until the cottontails are on their own. Remember to stay away from the nest. Frequent activity near the nest site will cause the mother to abandon her young. If you accidentally removed the young from the nest, they can be returned to the original nest and reunited with the mother as long as they have not been absent for more than 36 hours. Rabbits will not abandon their young if they have been touched by human hands, so if you feel the need to move the babies to a safer location near the original nest, please do so.
If you find a rabbit that you think needs help, take caution; Cottontails are a high-stress animal, and will die of a heart attack at even the tiniest bit of stress (such as being touched or hearing voices). Additionally, do not feed them! Improper food causes diarrhea and death. Put them in a shoebox or similar container (watch out, even little ones can jump and bite). Treat as an injured animal and take to your closest wildlife hospital or rehabilitation facility.
Zoonotic Diseases to be Aware of
Cottontails can carry the tularemia bacteria, which can be transferred to humans. This bacteria can cause flu-like symptoms, even pneumonia; severe cases can lead to death. To prevent infection, wear light gloves when handling cottontails and then wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
Dealing with Rabbits as Pests
Are cottontails invading your garden? Try placing a 2-foot high chicken wire fence around the garden. Be sure to either bury the fence 6 to 8 inches underground or drive stakes into the ground to prevent the cottontails from pushing their way underneath. Also try planting onions, garlic, fritillaria or nasturtium around the perimeter. Cottontails do not like the scent of these plants and may be deterred away from the garden.