by Dr. Bruce Gabrielson
One of the problems I had for years in my starting pen was the ability to raise many young rabbits. There are many trees in my pen, so hawks and owls are a problem I live with constantly. My brush piles are well developed, and offer plenty of places for the rabbits to hide. However, since rabbits usually won't build their own underground den, and since I only have rabbits in my pen, having suitable places for the rabbits to hide and give birth was something I really didn't think about for a long time. This article will discuss a couple of techniques I've come up with that provides plenty of places for female rabbits to be safe and have babies while at the same time allow access when I need rabbits up for a run.
Drain Pipe Den
The Drain Pipe Den (I like to call it that) is basically about a 2 ½ to 3 foot length of 6" black corrugated plastic drain pipe positioned between two heavy logs as shown in Figure 1. You need a longer pipe for the rabbits to feel safe with a front and back entrance, plus you need the pipe wedged in so a hound can't dig it out to get to the bunnies inside. I make sure to cover the pipe with bark and smaller logs across the top, plus I lay another short log on an angle across the front (see Figure 2) to make sure a dog can't see directly into the front of the pipe if they try.
Figure 2 (right) shows the front of such a den. I've noticed that rabbits will run if they can see the hound looking straight down the pipe. The rear of the pipe is similarly covered. To help with young rabbits, push some dry leaves into the bottom of the pipe at least a foot back. Also make sure the pipe isn't in a low spot where water can run in. If you want to flush an older rabbit out, simply move the front log and push your stick into one end and out pops the rabbit on the other.
Figure 3 (left) shows another similar drain pipe den. In this case, the pipe is just to the right of the first log on the left. This happens to be my most used and successful bunny producing den. What I've done is created a brush pile on the back of the den so that there is a larger area for the babies to move into.
If you also look close, you will notice a piece of old plywood covering a large area of the rear. Plywood keeps the rain and snow off. I decided to add this after following rabbit tracks one winter after several snow falls. I noticed that the dens which were used most often year around were those dens that offered a good layer of air and undergrowth. In snow, rabbits will den in the pipe, but crawl up through the rear pile to the surface when the snow lasts more than a couple of days. I also notice that the dens most quickly occupied are those closest to my rabbit feeders. Rabbits are territorial and once the den becomes occupied, a rabbit will tend to stay there for a long time.
Another thing I've found interesting about my dens is that snakes (which I get sometimes but not often) don't seem to like the corrugated pipe to hide in. I've found snakes in brush piles but I've never found a snake in one of the pipes.
Rabbits do like brush piles, but need to get out to eat, cool off in the heat, and sometimes to have fun running from my dogs, especially if the pups are little. Another favorite hiding place for my rabbits is my lean-to shelters. My first lean-to shelters were pretty much useless and I never saw a rabbit in one. Nowadays rabbits are always around the shelters in the early evenings and mornings.
The typical lean-to is depicted in Figure 4 (above left). Basically, a couple of supports with a leaning structure being held up behind it. At first I used plywood but could never get a rabbit to hide under the structure. What happened to make the shelters more desirable?
The picture in Figure 5 (right) shows an actual lean-to in my pen. One time I decided to use a piece of rabbit wire when I didn't have any plywood handy. To keep the structure stable, I put a few sticks over it. All of a sudden, rabbits use the structures continuously. I'm no where near an expert on rabbit psychology, but I've got some ideas on this. I really think that the rabbits feel safe since they can see and hear all around while still not having to worry about being snagged by a flying vermin. The opening to the structure points away from my paths and there is grass under the structure during the spring through fall. Also, winter leaf fall doesn't fill the under area.
I have a couple of other dens that my rabbits sometimes occupy. I found a hollow tree and cut it down. Then I sawed it into several 2 to 2 ½ foot long sections. These I've conveniently placed all around my pen, sometimes under brush piles. I also have another tree hollow at the base. I needed to nail a piece of plywood across most of the opening so a dog could not get in but a rabbit could.