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Brown hare

Hare at Studley Royal

The brown hare, or European hare, is a charismatic wild animal, not native but long-established in the UK. It is present in England, including Yorkshire, and much of Scotland.

Brown hare: classification

Brown hares are mammals within the order Lagomorpha, which includes rabbits and hares. Their genus is Lepus (hares), and they are Lepus europaeus - European or brown hares.

Brown hare: distribution

Hare in a field near Harrogate

In the UK, the brown hare is found throughout England, in the south and east of Scotland, but not in Ireland except for mid-Ulster and west Tyrone (Northern Ireland). Its population in the UK is 817,500 (source: Britain's Mammals, A Concise Guide). The species is most abundant in the flat, arable land of East Anglia.

The brown hare may have originated on the grasslands of central Asia. It is native to much of continental Europe from northern Spain in the south to southern Scandinavia in the northern part of its range; it is also native to northern parts of western and central Asia.

Brown hares were introduced to Britain, possibly by the Romans about 2,000 years ago (since there are no records of them from earlier times - Wikipedia).

They have also been introduced to Ontario and New York State (North America), some South American countries and the Falkland Islands, Australia and both islands of New Zealand, and the south Pacific coast of Russia.

Brown hare: description & behaviour

Hare's ears

Adult brown hares are 48-70cm in length (head and body). Their ears are about as long as their head, so in theory if their ears were pulled forward, they would reach the tip of the nose, unlike the mountain hare. The ears are black-tipped. A brown hare weighs 2-5kg, with the females usually slightly heavier than the males (Britain's Mammals).

Hares at Bishop Thornton

Male hare on the left, and larger female on the right

The brown hare's fur is tawny (yellowish-brown).

Hare resting

Hare resting

Brown hares do not live in burrows, but above ground. They rest in 'forms' - 10cm deep depressions - or just lie flat in long grass or fields of crops.

Hare lying low

Hare lying low in stubble

They rely on speed to evade predators, and their long legs, muscles, wide nostrils and large hearts are adapted for high-speed endurance running in open country. Brown hares can reach about 70kmh/45mph. Unlike rabbits, the brown hare's white tail is tucked down and not visible when it runs.

Brown hares are mainly nocturnal, and they forage at dawn and dusk.

Hare enjoying the morning sun

Hare enjoying the morning sun

Brown hare: habitat and diet

Hare nibbling the grass

Brown hares live on arable farmland, and on grassland with hedgerows.

They eat grasses, young cereal crops, and - if snow is lying on the ground - shrubs.

Brown hare: predators


Buzzard at Staveley nature reserve

Predators of brown hares include foxes and birds of prey.

Other threats are intensive agriculture, and hunting. Although brown hares are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, they are not protected from hunting - there is no closed season, so they can be shot at any time of year.

Brown hare: life cycle

Hares - two generations

Learning from mum

The brown hare is mainly solitary, but small groups form in late winter or spring for courtship.

'Boxing' occurs when a female hare fends off a male in the breeding season, or is testing the resolve of the male. The expression 'mad as a March hare' refers to this behaviour.

Hares breed from February to September. The females can have up to 4 litters of three or four leverets. The leverets are active as soon as they are born; they are weaned after 3 or 4 weeks.

An average lifespan is 2 to 3 years, but 5% of brown hares live for more than 5 years, and the oldest known hare lived to 12.5 years.


Leveret backlit by the evening sun

Brown hare: slideshow

Brown hares

All images © Hedgehog Cycling

Save our wildlife - don't drive so fast

3rd July 2017

Brown hare, North Yorkshire

An otherwise delightful Sunday morning bike ride was blighted by the sight of too many fresh animal carcasses, the creatures killed by speeding cars. Could we change the law, or change our driving culture, and save our wildlife? Read about save our wildlife - don't drive so fast.

Yorkshire wildlife

Red kite, Yorkshire Showground

Yorkshire wildlife, from red kites to hares, hedgehogs, and seals. Notes on the animals and birds, including description, behaviour and life cycle, plus our own photos.

Read about Yorkshire wildlife.

Hare peeking over a pile of logs Brown hare near HarrogateHare at Studley Royal

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