Rabbits are known for their rapid breeding cycles that result in many offspring each year. The phrase “breeding like rabbits” has become a common reference to people that have several babies in a short amount of time. Since they’re known for their reproductive prowess, it’s only fair to ask: when do rabbits have babies? Learn about the time of year when these mammals are most likely to give birth to their offspring.
What is the Gestation Period of Rabbits?
The gestation period of rabbits can vary depending on the species. Since the eastern cottontail is one of the most common species of rabbits in North America, we’ll focus on their gestation period.
Rabbits become sexually mature at a young age. Females become ready to breed between 6 and 8 months, but some may start breeding even younger. Male rabbits start breeding between 3 and 6 months of age. That’s one reason why people who own pet rabbits begin separating them based on sex while they’re young.
The average eastern cottontail rabbit’s gestation period is between 25 and 35 days. That allows the rabbits to reproduce very quickly. Female rabbits can become pregnant within hours of giving birth. By the time the new litter is born, the original litter would have become largely self-sufficient.
How Many Rabbits Are Born at a Time?
The number of rabbits born at a single time varies. Each litter will produce between 4 and 8 baby rabbits on average. However, each litter can include more offspring, upwards of 12. After the babies are born, they will open their eyes within 10 days and then leave the nest the mother has made between 3 and 5 weeks later.
The fast maturation of the baby rabbits has a benefit — the process allows the mother to make way for the next litter! These animals breed quickly, but they rarely overrun any given area. The sad fact is that only about 15% of the offspring live through their first year.
They are relentlessly hunted by other animals such as snakes, hawks, eagles, and coyotes. Sometimes, humans strike their nests with lawnmowers or strike them with vehicles on the road.
Even if they do live through their first year, the overall lifespan of an eastern cottontail rabbit is only about 15 months. That means the species benefits from producing many animals. Theoretically, many offspring means that a higher number of rabbits will be available to breed in the future.
On average, a breeding eastern cottontail rabbit will have between three and four litters per year. Given that each litter has 4 to 8 offspring, the average rabbit can have 12 to 32 babies! That’s a tremendous amount of breeding that exceeds most mammals.
What Time of Year Do Rabbits Have Babies?
Rabbits are typically born between March and September, with breeding sometimes starting in February leading to the first litter being born about a month later. Rabbits are like other animals that do not breed in the winter.
The energy expenditure required for breeding and caring for their young makes raising babies in winter impractical. After all, rabbit food sources are scarcer during the winter months, making it harder for the mother to feed the babies while staying fed.
During that time of year, some species of rabbits usually move into underground burrows to stay safe from the cold. However, eastern cottontails do not dig their burrows. Instead, they inhabit other animals’ burrows or find natural hollows in which to spend the winter.
Rabbits do not hibernate like bears, though. They are rather resistant to cold, so they can freely find whatever food is available in winter. Yet, they’re usually more concerned with staying concealed. After all, with less vegetation to hide in, they could become an easier target for some of their predators.
Where Do Rabbits Give Birth?
Rabbits tend to give birth in nests. Sometimes, the doe, the female rabbit, waits until the last week to start looking for a proper nesting site. Remember, eastern cottontails do not burrow into the ground. However, they will seek a low-lying area in which they can build a safe nest for their babies.
Usually, the nests are made from various soft grasses. The mother also lines the nest with her fur to insulate the area. After the mother has built the nest, the process of kindling will begin. Kindling is the rabbit’s birthing process, and it can take as few as 15 minutes!
Oftentimes, the rabbit will hold off on giving birth until nighttime or early morning. That is the time when the rabbits feel safest from predators. Once the baby rabbits, called kits, are born, the mother may cover them with more of her fur.
Many rabbits only nurse their babies for about 5 to 10 minutes per day. That’s all the time the babies need to get the milk required to help them grow. A few weeks later, the rabbits will be ready to take on the world on their own.
So, when do rabbits have babies? As often as they can between March and September even though breeding starts in February for some of the mammals. Rabbits give birth to a lot of babies in hopes that they make it to adulthood. Unfortunately, many of them do not. However, people can help baby rabbits flourish by keeping an eye out for nests in their yards and watching for them on the road.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Labrynthe/Shutterstock.com
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