It's springtime at the and workers on Friday are struggling to keep alive their newest charges: A small sibling group of three-day-old wild baby bunnies, weighing perhaps an ounce each, are huddled together in a tiny shoebox surrounded by a warming blanket.
Unfortunately, the kits are missing one vital thing: their mother.
Discovered on an Eastport residential property April 5 and brought into a local veterinarian's office by a sympathetic homeowner, the animals were picked up by Center volunteers and transported to the Hampton Bays facility for rehabilitation. At such a young stage of life and without their mother to nurture and feed them, WRCH director Virginia Frati said she gives the rabbits about "a 25 percent chance" of survival. Staff veterinarian Bethany Rottner said an adult rabbit, presumed to be the mother, was found dead near the nest of the four kits. If the newborn animals do manage to grow and thrive while they’re fed a specially formulated liquid diet designed to mimic their mother's milk, they will be released in three weeks back at the Eastport site where they were found.
Frati said that, with the exception of the feeding schedule, "very little human interaction" happens with the animals. "They're already so stressed and fragile, we're leaving them alone until they can be released back into their home. This is just their temporary home."
Also wards at the Center are a foursome of baby squirrels that are being rehabilitated in similar fashion to the kits.
Although Dr. Rottner praises the efforts of people who bring in the spring-born baby rabbits, chicks and squirrels, calling them “well-meaning,” she has a message to deliver.
Not so fast.
The vet urges caution when removing these animals from their habitat. “It’s best to wait a day to see if the mother returns,” Dr. Rottner said. “Rabbits don’t hover over their offspring like humans do. Most likely, the mother will be gone for the day to graze and then return at night to nurse the newborns.” Deer, she added, exhibit the same behavior with their young.
The Rescue Center’s next wave of springtime patients, beginning in mid-April, will be baby birds. It’s this time of the year when people bring in birds they believe have fallen out of their nests. But, said Ms. Frati, “Most of the time the chicks aren’t actually falling, they’re being pushed out of the nests by the parents.” This fledge behavior is the first step in teaching the young birds how to fly. Very rarely, she explained, do both adults orphan chicks.
The real danger to birds at this time of year comes from the animals' natural predators such as feral cats and dogs, raccoons and weasels. Even hawks may attack the newly born chicks. Grown animals aren’t immune either.
No matter what the species, however, the WRCH’s mission is to purposely serve as a revolving door medical service for wildlife. “These animals aren’t pets, they’re wild,” said Frati. “Our job is to help them get back to where they belong.”
The WRCH relies solely on private donations to keep it operating. If you feel like lending a helping hand, head over to the Southampton Elks Club Saturday, May 5, from 7-10 for a dinner buffet and drinks (1 complimentary drink is included). Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door.