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Why do hares box? And other hare facts

With long ears, long legs and an even longer stride, the brown hare is Britain’s fastest land mammal. Elusive and somewhat endearing, hares live quite a different life to that of their rabbit relatives, from their sleeping arrangements to their breeding habits. 

Brown hares can often be seen 'boxing' in March (Photo: FLPA/Alamy Stock Photo)
Brown hares can often be seen 'boxing' in March (Photo: FLPA/Alamy Stock Photo)

Once a common sight, it is thought that brown hares in the UK have decreased by up to 80% in the last century, largely due to loss of habitat, hunting and changes in agricultural practices. This means that sightings of brown hares are vital in the fight to conserve them.

Why do hares box?

Brown hares are famous for their energetic behaviour, and during the month of March in particular they are known to ‘box’ frantically with one another. These 'mad March hares' do this because they are in their mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season.

The boxing usually occurs when a male is being too persistent with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. When she’s had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a fierce boxing match!

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What is the difference between a hare and a rabbit?

Both the brown hare and the rabbit are members of a family of mammals called Leporidae. While at first glance the two species look remarkably similar, on closer inspection there are actually several characteristics that set them apart:

  • Although rabbits are known for having long ears, the ears of the brown hare are markedly longer, with black tips
  • Hares are larger than rabbits, and their back legs are much longer than rabbits
  • Rabbits live in colonies, while hares live alone or in small, loose groups
  • Rabbits live underground in warrens and when disturbed head for home, whereas hares never go underground. They prefer ditches along field edges.
The brown hare (left) has much longer legs and ears than the rabbit (right) (Photos: Libby Owen/WTML)
The brown hare (left) has much longer legs and ears than the rabbit (right) (Photos: Libby Owen/WTML)

Where to see brown hares

The best time to see hares is at dawn and dusk, out in open fields, farmland and woodland edges. You are much more likely to see them during early spring, as this is the breeding season. Hares need cover to hide from predators, so can often be found near hedgerows.

As hares have excellent hearing, they are good at detecting potential danger through sound, so it’s worth using a pair of binoculars to observe this mammal without causing disturbance.

It’s also worth being wary of where you step if you know you are in the presence of hares – some leverets (baby hares) are born as early as March and often appear in fields looking as though they have been abandoned. It’s vital that you don’t touch them - it’s actually fairly common for leverets to be left alone for long periods of time (their mother will come back and check on them intermittently) - and touching them will leave your scent on them, which may lead to abandonment.

Your car can also double as a great ‘hare hide’. Park up by a field and any nearby hares are far less likely to head for cover.

Report your hare sightings

If you see a hare in or around the woods near you, your records could help conserve the species.

Simply report any sightings of brown hares to the Brown Hare Preservation Trust, a charity working to protect the hare, and you could help this species thrive once again.

See if you can spot any brown hares

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