A sad bunny story
[Posted 9 June 2004]
A few years ago I was at a friend's house, sitting at a patio table with her family while she was mowing the lawn. She moved her daughter's plastic play house in order to cut the grass underneath it. Suddenly she started yelling for her husband, and I went over to help, expecting a snake or something. Instead we were all tasked with catching baby rabbits and putting them back into a shallow hole that their mother had concealed them in. We found 5 total, with no blood and guts, and no apparent escapees. All the bunnies seemed to have survived. She put the plastic house back where it had been, trying to respect their mother's choice of location. She later told me that in a previous year, she had run over a rabbit's nest with a lawn mower, and the lawn mower had killed some of the rabbits. That's why she thought the mother had moved the nest under the plastic house, to protect her babies from the lawn mower.
A couple of years ago, that same friend bought a chocolate lab puppy for her daughter. Two years later, the full-grown dog is almost 100 pounds, a puppy's personality within an adult's body. Over a week ago, the dog found another rabbit's nest. The dog had dug up the hole, and had a baby rabbit in her mouth nearby. I took the baby away from her, not sure if it was still alive, and put it back in the nest. I covered the hole the best I could, but the nest wasn't back to looking like an ordinary patch of dirt until the next morning, after the mother rabbit had visited her babies overnight. I'd seen a rabbit in that area often -- very close to the side of the house, but didn't know she was building a nest or hiding her babies there.
Needless to say, the dog continued to dig up the nest every time she went outside. My friend's daughter and I would chase her away when we could, but the dog was just obsessed with opening that nest. Finally, I don't know whether the dog uncovered the nest before the rains or the mother did, but the baby bunnies had a tough day last Saturday, June 5th. Their nest was fully uncovered, with their mother's cover of hair and dried grass nowhere to be found. It was cold and rained all day, sometimes heavily. I wondered if their mother had uncovered them deliberately, perhaps because they'd have a hard time breathing if the dried grass became too compressed.
Then after Saturday came Sunday, when the dog decided to start eating the rabbits again. She dug at the nest and ate one baby rabbit, but my friend thinks the other rabbits were able to escape successfully. My friend's daughter and I had been checking the nest after I first caught the dog with a bunny in her mouth, and we both counted five. It's possible that 4 escaped the dog.
Meanwhile, at least 2 baby rabbits have been seen in the area, one that hides under a bush, and another who hides behind a shutter. My friend thinks that more than one is hiding under the bush. We don't know if the rabbits are old enough to eat greens yet, and I have seen an adult rabbit returning to the area, perhaps to feed her babies. I was able to walk right up to one of the babies and photograph it, the one who hides behind the shutter. Of course the dog continues to look for the rabbits, and seems to find them under the bushes quite often. We don't know if she has feasted on any of the baby bunnies since Sunday, but my friend and her daughter are trying to keep her out of the area.
Of course it's natural for a dog to hunt rabbits, but it's also natural for a red-tailed hawk in the area to hunt rabbits, too. Human pets put a strain on the environment that probably wouldn't be as intense without them. This rabbit disaster is also partly the mother rabbit's fault. My friend and I couldn't believe that she didn't relocate her babies after the dog first started digging them up. She had over a week to move them, but just continued to cover them back up again at night. She also had located her nest too close to a house, perhaps a safe site in the past, maybe where she was raised. But with the dog occupying the territory now, there couldn't be a worse location. We're hoping that she has learned from this experience and will pick a better nest site next time.
I started photographing the nest a few days after all of this started. Notice how nice the hole cover looks on an earlier date -- you can hardly tell that it isn't a plain patch of dirt. But day after day with the dog digging it up, the cover looked poor and then was gone entirely. Finally the baby rabbits abandoned the hole when the dog started eating them again last Sunday. The bottom photo shows the one bunny I found out in the open, the baby rabbit who my friends have seen hiding behind one of their shutters.
© 2004 by Pam Rotella
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