If you are used to seeing wild rabbits in your yard during spring and summer, you are probably wondering where they are during the winter months. Many mammals spend wintertime holed up and sleeping in their burrows. But, are wild bunnies doing the same?
So, do rabbits hibernate? No, rabbits don’t hibernate in the winter or any other part of the year. When animals hibernate, they go into a deep sleep that allows them to conserve energy because there isn’t enough food. A rabbit’s anatomy isn’t designed to function at a slower rate necessary for deep sleep and hibernation.
But if rabbits aren’t hibernating during cold weather, what are they doing? Keep on reading to discover where rabbits go and how they stay warm during winter.
What Do Rabbits Do in The Winter?
Wild rabbits don’t migrate or hibernate during cold winter months. In fact, they remain living in the same place they lived in the summer.
But that’s not all! Since they don’t hibernate or migrate to warmer areas, rabbits end up spending winter months doing the same things they do year-round.
During winter, rabbits are either out and about looking for food sources or are taking shelter from the cold.
Being crepuscular animals means that rabbits are the most active early in the morning and later in the evening. To survive winter, rabbits will be most active during dusk and dawn when they venture outside their shelters in pursuit of food.
Since their regular food sources, such as grass and other ground-level plants become scarce during wintertime, rabbits don’t have much choice than to lower their expectations.
Instead of eating grass, wild rabbits eat more wood-based food sources during the winter, such as tree bark, pine tree needles, and twigs. Most often they will forage and dig under snow to find food.
Where Do Rabbits Go in The Winter?
Wild rabbits spend their lives living within a five-acre area that they claim as territory.
Most rabbits stay the winter in the same place they spend their springs and summers. But you may see them less frequently because they spend more time holed up in their shelter rather than exploring outdoors.
During wintertime, wild rabbits can be found digging holes or searching for warm places that can serve as shelters against cold (source).
They will also look for shelters that can keep them protected against predators. Most often, you’ll find wild rabbits living in burrows or staying hidden in thick bushes, evergreen trees, under walled buildings, or other places where they can’t be easily seen.
While most species of rabbits survive winter by digging their own burrows or dens, the Eastern Cottontail rabbit is an exception to this rule.
Instead of digging out a burrow, the Eastern Cottontail rabbits will find an empty burrow from another animal to crawl into. Or, they will look for woody vegetation to squeeze under during cold winter months.
Wild rabbits tend to limit their travels during the winter months and focus on finding as many food sources as possible. All the while they will try to store energy for maintaining their body temperature and surviving the winter.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts many wild rabbits don’t last the winter and have a very low survival rate. It’s estimated that only around 30% of wild rabbits survive winter (source).
Do Rabbits Sleep More in The Winter?
Rabbits on average sleep eight hours every day throughout the year. But instead of sleeping in one go, rabbits do it in increments and have several half-hour naps throughout the day.
Wild rabbits are more likely to be slightly less active and spend more time hunkering in their burrows rather than exploring. When they aren’t using their energy to search for food, wild rabbits will curl up in a ball and take a short nap in their burrow.
While it might seem like they spend more time sleeping during winter, that’s not the case. To preserve their energy, wild rabbits tend to rest and spend more time inside their burrows during the winter months.
How Rabbits Adapt to Winter?
Many people become surprised when they find out that rabbits do better in cold temperatures as opposed to hot weather. This is mainly because their bodies have adapted according to their environment and help keep them safe.
Before it gets too cold, rabbits will grow a thicker coat that will help keep them warm during winter. Both wild and pet rabbits will start to eat more as the winter approaches to build a layer of fat that will keep them insulated and serve as an extra source of energy.
Although too gross to bear, rabbits will also start ingesting their feces increasingly, once the food becomes scarce. Eating poop allows rabbits to absorb all essential nutrients when the food is scarce and hard to come by.
How Do Rabbits Stay Warm in The Winter?
Growing a thicker coat and building a layer of fat are visible adaptations both male and female rabbits go through to stay warm during harsh winter months.
Besides these physical changes, rabbits also do everything that’s in their power to stay warm during winter. This means that they will fill their nests and burrows with leaves, grass, and hay which are amazing insulators and will help trap body heat.
Rabbits are at risk of cold drafts and can easily get hypothermia and die if their fur becomes wet outside their burrow. To prevent the worst-case scenario, most rabbits will build cozy burrows and spend most of their days sitting still and conserving energy and body heat.
Unlike other mammals, wild and domesticated rabbits don’t hibernate during the winter or any other part of the year. And although they are harder to come by, wild rabbits still live in the same places they inhabit during spring, summer, and fall.
Since they don’t migrate to warmer climates, rabbits developed adaptations that help them survive colder and harsher winter conditions. However, surviving winter is still hard, if not impossible, for many wild rabbits, so do what you can to help.