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A sleeker, larger, and more athletic relative of the rabbit, the brown hare is able to adapt to a variety of climates. It has one of the largest distributions of any mammal species. During springtime, brown hares can be seen running around, leaping in the air, and engaging in bouts of boxing. This frantic display occurs before mating and has given rise to the expression “mad as a March hare.”
Habits: The brown hare lives in many habitats,
favoring farmland, meadows, pastures, and fields of cereal crops. It also
lives in marshes, open woodlands, and sand dunes, and up to 5,000 feet
high in the Alps. Instead of digging burrows like the rabbit, the brown
hare rests and sleeps by day in a form. A form is a shallow hole the hare
scrapes out in a sheltered spot in the ground. The hare lies with its hindquarters
in the deepest part, with its coat color blending into the surroundings.
If disturbed, the brown hare lies still with its ears flat against its body. If the enemy comes too close, the hare can outrun most predators with its long hind legs and sleek body. The brown hare outwits them by swerving and running in a zigzag route, backtracking and recrossing its own path. The brown hare uses its keen senses of smell and hearing to detect predators.
Food and Feeding: At dusk the brown hare feeds, staying close to the ground with its ears flattened along its back. Instead of hopping, it moves carefully, taking one step at a time. The brown hare mainly eats grasses and herbs, roots, cultivated cereal crops, buds, twigs, and tree bark. Rabbits and hares have special ways to digest large amounts of plant food. During the day they produce soft feces, which they eat to digest the food a second time. In addition to nutritional value, the feces also contain bacteria that help to break down the food in the stomach. The hares pass round, hard feces during the night.
Breeding: The brown hare breeds throughout
the year, but it mates mainly in spring. Most young are born from March
to September. Males race around fields, leaping in the air, chasing and
boxing with males and females during “mad March.” The male mates aggressively,
often mauling the female. She gives birth in early spring to two to four
young and may have up to three litters a year. Boxing occurs during breeding
when the females defend themselves from aggressive males.
The leverets (young) are born in a grass-lined nest in a form. Unlike rabbits, the hares are born fully furred with their eyes open. The mother puts each leveret in its own form and visits each night to suckle them. She gives a low call and they answer to help her to locate them in the dark. The leverets are independent of their mother at three weeks; they reach adult weight at eight months. The leveret is well developed at birth and has its own nest. A leveret feeds on solid food at two to three weeks old.
Length: Head and body 1 ½ -2 ft. Ears 4 in. Tail 4 in. Hind feet 5-6 in.
Weight: 8 ½ -13 lb.
Sexual maturity: 1 year
Breeding season: January to October
Gestation: 42-44 days
No. of young: 2-4 per litter
Litters per year: 3-4
Habit: Active mainly at night. Normally solitary outside the breeding season.
Diet: Mainly grasses and herbs, but also occasionally cereal crops, roots, and bark.
Lifespan: 10-12 years
Related Species: There are about 18 species in the genus Lepus. Related to all other hares, rabbits, and pikas.
Distribution: Widespread across Europe except in Ireland and Scotland. Also found in Asia to central China and in parts of Africa. Introduced to Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and the United States.
Conservation: Modern farming techniques have eliminated many of the hare’s food plants thus causing its numbers to decline.
Features of the Brown Hare:
Ears: Longer than the head and tipped with black. Laid flat along the head when the hare lies low to hide from predators or when it feeds in the open.
Legs: Long, with powerful hind limbs adapted for quick bursts of speed and sudden changes in direction.
Coat: Brown fur with white underside. Yellow fur on cheeks and insides of limbs. Coat becomes denser and redder from late summer to early fall. The tail has a black stripe on its upper surface.
Other Species of Hare:
Mountain hare: Smaller and stockier than brown hare, with shorter ears. Coat is similar to brown hare but is not as rich in color.
Arctic hare: Pure white winter coat with black tipped ears.
Naturewatch: The brown hare rests during the day in long grass, scrub, or open woodland. Look for it feeding at dawn or dusk in fields of short crops such as winter corn. The brown hare’s footprints are larger and deeper than the rabbit’s. Forefeet prints are side by side.
Did you Know?
When frightened or hurt, the hare screams loudly. It also grates its teeth together to make a warning noise when annoyed.
Some say the brown hare is the original Easter Bunny and that the Greek goddess of spring, Ester, created the first hare from a bird.
In isolated cases, hares have eaten their own young.