Growing Animals Part 1: The Burrow

PART 1: The Burrow
Like any typical weekend morning in the garden, Andrew and I had finished up with the weeding and harvesting, and were working on the watering.

“Did you hear that?” He asked me from across the garden as I watered the beans.

“Hear what?” I replied.

“Come over here.”

I put down the half-empty, plastic watering can and walked towards him. As I got closer, I started to hear the high-pitched “meep-meep-meep” coming from the straw. He was kneeling on the wood-chipped walkway of the garden between the bed of Romas and the bed of sweet peppers, looking at a bit of straw between one of the tomato plants and a bush of basil. I walked up and stood beside him. Slowly he began to move some of the straw aside with his bare hands, when something pushed against the straw towards his palm. He pulled back quickly.

“Is it a mouse?” I asked.

“That is bigger than any mouse I have seen,” he said, a bit shocked.

I strained to see what might be behind the thin layer of straw, while Andrew went to the shed to get a hand held rake. He came back and slowly began to peel back the last layer of straw to reveal a couple of furry balls.

“They kind of look like squirrels.” I said, thinking of the baby squirrel I found on the sidewalk the previous Fall.

“I don’t think they are squirrels,” Andrew responded.

“Rabbits?”

“Totally.”

In the middle of our blooming vegetables, we sat and stared at the burrow of tiny rabbits, their eyes closed tight, their ears still pinned back, and looking completely adorable.

new born cottontails in nest

We didn’t get any pictures of the rabbits, but this is what they looked like the first time we saw them (photo taken from here). They must have been only a few days old at most.

Great. What were we supposed to do now? We had known that a rabbit had gotten into the garden, but we weren’t sure how. The whole community garden had a fence around the perimeter, and a few volunteers had walked the edges early in the spring to see if there were any rabbit-sized gaps. Anything that looked like a rabbit could fit through got covered with a bit of chicken wire. So either someone had left the gate open long enough to let mamma rabbit slip in, or we had a leak. We still weren’t sure what to do, and over the next couple of days we did some research. Did you know that their eyes open at about a week and at two weeks the baby bunnies will start adventuring out of the nest? The mother only comes around twice a day to feed the babies (at dawn and at dusk).  At about one month the babies spend most of their time out of the nest eating solid foods and drinking water. They are weaned around 6 weeks.

We decided to wait until the bunnies were able to be on their own a bit to try and catch them (with the mother) and relocate them elsewhere. Not the easiest of tasks, as we have come to find, but so far the damage to our garden plot has been minimal. I can’t speak for the rest of our garden community, but I think we all would feel better without a mother rabbit and five baby bunnies running around.

One negative aspect of their being more rabbits in the garden is that Charley’s prey drive is always turned on high when we do our daily garden routine, and it has gotten a bit frustrating. We thought if we kept the dogs away from the plot (which we had been doing anyway as they tend to sit on the raised beds and squash our plants), they wouldn’t notice that we were also growing rabbits in our garden. During a garden social event where we were walking around to different plots and showing off what each person was growing, we heard little baby rabbit cries coming from the direction of our plot. Andrew and I both ran over as fast as possible to find that Charley had dragged Dixie (their leashes were tied together) and the hose that they were tied to through our plot to get to the nest in the center and had killed one of the babies, and was pursuing another. We were able to drag an over-excited Charley to the fence where we could chain him and Dixie to something  a bit more stable. We then scooped up the two-week old rabbits and put them safe and sound back in the nest, trying to put everything back the way it had been. A good number of our plants had been crushed by the dogs, but we were able to get them in order. The garden social was pretty quiet after that. Andrew found a place at the edge of the garden to bury the tiny bunny, and he was very quiet for the rest of the night.

It is hard to blame Charley, even though we were all a bit mad at him. Just a month or two earlier we were praising him for finding and killing mice that were living in the overgrown patches of the garden before it was tilled. We are also constantly indulging his predatory instinct with squeaky toys and games of fetch. Since we don’t know where he came from or what his life was like before he came into our lives, it could be that at one point he had to use his predatory instinct to survive. He has a good home now, so we are trying to get him to not get so excited around wildlife, but it hasn’t been easy.

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Our live trap. Huntin’ for wabbits!

As far as the rabbits go, we are working on catching them with a live trap. This morning we found a few nibbles taken from a carrot, and a few of the carrot stems have been missing the last few days. If we can’t catch them in the live trap, then I am not sure what to do. We could wrap chicken wire around our plot to keep them out, but that would take a decent amount of time. Anybody know of the best way to catch rabbits and/or to get them out of the garden?

UPDATE:

The day after posting this, our trap was successful at capturing one of the adolescent rabbits that we believe came from the burrow in our plot. I had put the trap next to our green beans, since they were already done and I had been noticing something nibbling on them. To bait the trap I used a carrot that also had some chew marks on it along with the carrots greens. I was glad I left the dogs at home that morning as I drove the rabbit a few miles away and released it into a nature preserve. I am not sure Charley would have been able to contain himself with a rabbit riding in the car with him.

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The first trapped rabbit. Hopefully there will be more to come!

The success at capturing a rabbit was a bit overshadowed with the discovery that mamma rabbit has brought even more baby bunnies into the garden. It looks like we are going to have to fence off our Fall plants after all.

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A baby from the second round. I have been chasing it all around our plot, and it never seems to go away; even with the dogs just a few feet away from it.

PART 2: The Nest – Coming Soon.

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7 responses to “Growing Animals Part 1: The Burrow

  1. AWESOME post!!! Rabbits aren’t near as plentiful as they used to be. I have only had two sightings on the farm since I have been back in Missouri. I had one a couple of times in Mississippi over a four year period.

    • The day after I posted this we caught a rabbit in the trap, so I updated the post. So far it has just been the one, and now we are going to have even more of them since they multiply like, well, rabbits!

  2. Pingback: Growing Animals Part 2: The Nest | Bark, Eat, Grow·

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