Donna Tavano: Getting In The Rabbit Habit

I was in my house, minding my own business, corralling errant dust bunnies from under the bed, when another, more critical bunny crisis descended upon me. The gran’chillun bounded in, clamoring for my presence in the backyard where their mom was on poop patrol. In the middle of the lawn, as she was about to fling a pile of you-know-what into a bucket, she thought she saw it move. It was not, in fact, a pile of you-know-what, at all. Bedlam ensued as they realized the brown lump was a baby bunny. Dogs and children needed restraining for pretty much the same reasons, and as I made my way out, I feared it was time to administer last rites.

Instinctively my heart sank, with irritation trotting in at a steady clip behind. After miraculously raising five sons, without (tragic) incident, worrying about the health and safety of nine grandkids and dozens of pets over 40 years, we were now truly empty nesters, devoid of human or animal responsibilities (other than ourselves) and that was just fine. Over the years I’d paid my dues, hoisting dozens of drowning toads out of catch basins on makeshift elevators, rescuing a two-foot long snapping turtle that bit a chunk out of our car’s seat, feeding frozen mousicles to a corn snake for one endless summer and rescuing nests of flea-ridden infant squirrels blown throughout the neighborhood after Hurricane Bob. “Don’t look, won’t know” was my new mantra. If baby bunnies must expire, they should have the good graces to do it anywhere but our property. Alas, Mother Nature is fickle, or else really sly, as she knew we’d never turn a blind eye.

I picked up the exquisitely soft ball of fluff, the size of a lemon, which melted into the palm of my hand. I saw no obvious sign of injury so I placed it under the edge of the deck. Two hours later it had not moved any appreciable distance – like further under the porch for safety – so, with the fear of dogs, hawks and ospreys looming, we made the trek to Wild Care, Bun-Bun safely ensconced in a fleece-lined, empty spiked seltzer container. One hefty donation and exam by a rehabilitator later, we left, gratefully empty-handed, our mutual assessment that the little fellow was suffering from dumb bunny syndrome: newbie out of the nest, not yet yard-smart. I breathed a sigh of relief, as he hadn’t died on my watch, and I didn’t have to decide whether or not to lie to the grandchildren about his doing so.

But it was rabbit redux two days later, when, while mowing the newly sodded side yard, my son nearly ran over a hole smack in its middle, soft blades of grass shielding a nest from the unforgiving blades of the mower. Again with the bedlam…dogs…kids. This time, as we parted the grass, we saw Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail nestled together. Extensive research revealed these were cottontails, either New England or Eastern. The native New England variety is nearly endangered, now only located in five isolated areas, one being Cape Cod, and is smaller, with black-edged, shorter ears. They have bigger eyes and a black spot on their forehead, not white like the Eastern type. Unlike European rabbits – Watership Down – there is no underground network of burrows and warrens, a cottontail nest is merely a three-inch basin scratched into the dirt, lined with fur mom has plucked from her own chest…ouch! Born naked and blind, they’re good to go in just three weeks. They may appear abandoned during that time, as mom only visits the nest twice a day to feed them. They are left alone the rest of the time intentionally, so as not to call attention to the nest. One male reproduces at seven months, a female at four. Potentially, one rabbit could create 800 bunnies: kids, grandkids, etc., in a year, hence the fertility lore. A bunch of bunnies is a herd.

I had to keep from channeling my inner Farmer McGregor as I recalled how the predecessors of these cuties had devoured over $100 of black-eyed Susans, hakea grass and hostas the previous year. If you aren’t sure if mom is feeding her brood, lay a pattern of twigs tic-tac-toe style over the nest, or drape dental floss, and in 24 hours check the nest to see if mom disturbed it.

Now, totally into the rabbit habit, I check the yard several times a day praying the pug won’t discover a live action chew toy, or a red-tailed hawk stop and shop a bite-size family snack. I know it happens; I just don’t want to witness it. So, barring us all contracting tularemia, rabbit fleas or watching my flowers gnawed to nubs, I acknowledge their awesome adorableness makes it easier to forgive and forget their garden indiscretions. May you too be bitten by a rabbit habit.