I have a baby bunny nest in my backyard. My dog “discovered” it. I found her scratching at the ground, disturbing the tiny little rabbits. Not old enough to hop and only distinguishable as rabbits by their tiny pink ears, two of the babies scrambled away to cower in a corner of my patio while I removed my dog.
After a speedy internet search to determine the best course of action, I went back to return the babies safely to their nest. The rabbits, smaller than the palm of my hand, were unharmed. Warm and quivering, they kicked their tiny little legs against my hand when I lifted them. After carefully placing them inside the shallow space, I covered the opening to the with dry pine straw. See the video of the babies in their nest here.
Thereafter, my dog was banned from her own backyard. Did I mention that she is a beagle – the breed specifically designed for rabbit hunting? Henceforth, she objected audibly in the way only a beagle can and protested with vigorous door scratching on a daily basis.
In the coming days, the rabbits and their welfare were constantly on my mind. I watched vigilantly out the back windows for the return of their mother and found out on a Toronto Wildlife website that she should return once at dawn and once at dusk to nourish the babies for 5 minutes before hopping off to munch on my neighbor’s hydrangeas.
I felt like I was a surrogate mother. Those of you out there who have raised children know what it feels like when your babies are in danger. There were nights when the thunder rumbled and the rain poured out of the sky that I didn't sleep. One stormy evening, I put a red and white polka dot umbrella over the bush above their nest to keep the downpour from flooding it. I worried about coyotes, cats, and the red-tailed hawk screeching menacingly nearby Anxiety crept in when I didn’t see mama rabbit for days. I prayed that she was simply coming at night. I peeked at the little furry babies snuggled up together to make sure they were visibly breathing.
Neighbors put in their two cents offering suggestions and urging me to bring them inside. But I knew this was out of my hands. These were wild things living by the rules of nature. They did not need my interference. I could do more harm then good thinking I understood what they needed. I needed to stand back and watch them grow and leave the nest and let go of any illusion of control.
Still I looked for the mama to return and thought of the slight dry warm weight of the babies in my hand as I returned them to the nest. One day a head with tiny ears poked out of the nest alertly when I neared, and I knew it was only a matter of time now before they moved on.
The next day I found the nest empty. I gazed with wonder and sweet sorrow at the empty nest. Would they be okay out in the big dangerous world? What would become of them?
I was telling a friend about the baby bunnies over the phone, and he mentioned that all of my babies were leaving the nest, referring to my youngest son who was soon to head off to the college, I paused as the realization struck me, and the parallels became apparent - knowing how difficult it will be to let go and trust that he will make the right decisions and be okay - having the faith to believe that I have done my job and nature will take it’s course.
I haven’t seen the babies since. They are off hopping around living their bunny lives somewhere out of sight. I do see their mama still (photo above), munching clover in my yard. My neighbor gave the mama bunny a name – she calls her Faith.
For tips on dealing with empty nest syndrome, I suggest this excellent article.