A rabbit has dug a nest in the middle of our not very big backyard. The death watch has now begun.
Yes, as far as natural history is concerned, Eastern cottontail rabbits do not dig graves. Especially their own. They do, however, create nests for their bunnies (separate from the warrens they live in). In our yard, this is the same thing.
This is the fourth time in the seven years we have lived in our current house that a rabbit nest has been established in our yard. I don’t think I knew what I was looking at the first time. At least, I didn’t until the day I was working from home and let our two dogs out (Annie, the lab mix, and Cody, the corgi). I came up from the basement while they were out and saw a rabbit still in the yard.
I wondered: what makes a rabbit sit still in a yard occupied by dogs?
I was drawn outside to investigate after hearing some weird screaming noise. I was worried that it was one of the dogs, somehow having injured themselves. But no, they were fine. Couldn’t say the same thing for three bunnies in the nest who were busy playing the role of chew toys for Annie. By the time everything settled down, you wouldn’t have thought the bunnies actually had any injuries: I think they might have just died of shock.
Six months later, here we go again. Annie got to this batch earlier: they didn’t even have fur. They also couldn’t really make noise, so while the dog was curious about the smell, she wasn’t getting enough reaction to really spur her predatory instincts. Unfortunately, if I didn’t do anything, she was going to dig up the entire yard to get to the damned critters. I waved her off and went to work scooping bunnies out of their nest with a hockey stick. It’s a perfect tool for the job, I might add, but I still felt pretty awful doing it. Nevertheless, the rabbits were dead in a Schrodinger’s cat sense at this point anyway: mother rabbits leave their babies in their nest after they’re born, just visiting them until the bunnies are ready to move around more independently. There was no way these bunnies were going to survive their exposed position, and that was even presuming the mother would come back for them.
So scratch another litter of baby rabbits.
I think there’s a special place in Hell for people who have scooped baby rabbits out of a nest with a hockey stick.
Cody the corgi passed away before the next nest appeared. He had never been worth much as far as rabbits went. He was far more concerned about keeping everyone from doing anything dangerous or letting us know that our daughter needed attention. One time Annie flushed the rabbit out of the bushes in one corner of the yard, driving it beautifully towards the front gate where Cody was standing guard. The rabbit ran right past Cody, within a foot of him, and he never moved a hair. Or a hare.
Annie stepped up patrols when the next nest appeared in our yard. I can’t be sure, but I think she scared the mother rabbit on the very day the next litter was due and the mother chose another location to have her babies.
Anyway, that’s all proof that rabbits are not the smartest of creatures on God’ green earth: our yard might be an inviting sanctuary, perfectly sculpted for the purposes of a rabbit. Right up until the point where you add in the 70-pound dog with a taste for varmint.
About a week ago, a new nest appeared. It’s a nice little hole, unless you’re the owner of the yard, in which case it is a gaping chasm. Dead grass and leaves have already been stuffed into it to keep the bunnies warm. As yet, however, no bunnies.
My daughter is hoping we can find some way to save the bunnies, but the only solution is to turn our yard into a rabbit nature preserve, which I am just not willing to do. Maybe the mother rabbit will come to her senses before it’s too late. It’s happened before.
This morning I was out with Annie and I said, “Where are the baby rabbits?” She instantly went into alert mode, ready to go all Watership Down on a bunch of cottontail bunnies. I forgot that I shouldn’t use the “R” word, since she knows what that word means. Did I say she was a lab mix? Yes, and she’s probably also part border collie. She’s got a 10th grade vocabulary.
We have way too many rabbits. Evanston was the epicenter of a West Nile Virus outbreak a few years, and it wiped out our crows. Crows, it turns out, are major consumers of baby rabbits, and with them out of the picture, our rabbit population has exploded. So I’m not feeling bad about winnowing the bunny demographic. I think the poster child for Conservation Status “Least Concern” is the Eastern cottontail rabbit. I’d just rather not be the person at the other end of the hockey stick.
So we wait. We watch and we wait.
They’re coming. Then they’re going to die.