Q:I found a rabbit nest and two newborn rabbits in my flower garden. Do rabbits outgrow and leave the nest, or is this hole in the ground in my flower garden their permanent residence?
—Regina Jackson, West Roxbury, MA
A:Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) are very common throughout the eastern half of the U.S., much to the dismay of many gardeners. These furry lagomorphs (a mammal group that’s separate from rodents) eat a wide range of plant species and just about any part of those plants, including buds, twigs and bark in winter. Rabbits’ reputation for being prolific breeders is well-founded; their breeding season runs seven months or longer, and females can easily produce 20 to 30 young per year.
When the female rabbit is ready to give birth, she digs a shallow, bowl-shaped nest in a protected area and lines it with grass and fur. Baby rabbits are born blind and nearly hairless but then develop very rapidly and start venturing out of the nest when they’re just two to three weeks old. They are fully independent by the time they reach four to five weeks old. Eastern cottontail rabbits are solitary animals, so the young rabbits will soon move out of the nest area to establish their own separate territories.