The location that wild rabbits choose to occupy typically depends on the particular subspecies and the norms they have become familiar with. In contrast, domestic rabbits have adapted to completely different surroundings and dynamics from their wild cousins.
In the wild, rabbits can be found in a great many habitats, such as grassland and moorland, simple fields and prairies, farmlands, and various kinds of woodland or forestry.
Though often considered a soft animal, rabbits have shown themselves to be adaptable and robust when faced with a variety of scenarios and weather conditions.
Indeed, wild rabbits even occupy some of the most inhospitable desert terrains and can be seen on sandy beaches too. Plus, their closely related species – the hare – has breeds that thrive in the cold such as Arctic and snowshoe hares.
All this is possible because a wild rabbit’s daily needs are fairly simple. They either need ground they can burrow into or shade to hide and stay cool in, alongside a simple and abundant food source of fresh or dried grass.
Although versatility can vary according to breed and subspecies, it remains the case that wild rabbits have populated all but one continent – Antarctica. They can even be found in Australasia, but as they are not native to this region, their presence can be problematic to other wildlife.
The most widespread subspecies are:
Most people will have seen a cottontail rabbit because, despite being most numerous in mountainous areas, they are also able to live in forests, grasslands, and sand dunes. Indeed, they don’t even need to burrow if they can find shade, which has allowed them to spread across most of Europe and North America, and even to some desert environments like Arizona.
All domestic rabbits descend from the European rabbit, which prefers grassland to other habitats and can mostly be found in southwestern Europe, in particular Spain and Portugal, with populations also in northwest Africa.
Rabbits have a crepuscular lifestyle, which means they have evolved to make the most of dawn and dusk. They can still be seen during the daytime, but they will always be more active at dawn and dusk.
As not all rabbits rely on digging warrens, they will often occupy areas of vegetation during daylight hours, which allows them to hide from predators. At night, they are more comfortable grazing in the open.
If you see a wild rabbit, you can be sure there is a food source nearby that is sustaining them. They will also look to dwell in habitats away from the threat of animals that can kill them. Short grass and other chewed vegetation is a clear sign that there are wild rabbits in the area, as any food source will be kept in check by their constant grazing.
The largest rabbit habitats can be found in ecotone areas, which are more versatile and allow for more than one rabbit community to coexist. In contrast, a rabbit community located on grassland or scrubland specifically is likely to be smaller.
Colonies and Warrens
Rabbits are social creatures and enjoy being in close proximity to other rabbits. The groups they live in are accurately termed “colonies” and their burrows can become extensive enough to be called “warrens.”
Cottontail rabbits, however, live in aboveground nests, which explains why you won’t come across a rabbit warren in a cottontail colony. They are actually very similar to hares in this fashion, although hares tend to be solitary creatures.
Those wild rabbits who do dig warrens will rely on numerous exits and a depth of around 120 inches. Many tunnels will make up a warren, which will also have multiple nesting chambers where the females will give birth and care for their young. It is typical, therefore, for the female rabbits to put in the hard work when it comes to digging burrows.
Predators and Defense
Rabbits do have many enemies in the natural world, and the species they need to look out for will vary depending on where they live.
Similarly, domestic rabbits will also encounter potential enemies in the shape of other pets.
Let’s take a look at some of the typical threats a rabbit will want to avoid:
- Birds – usually birds of prey, such as buzzards, hawks, eagles, owls, kestrels, and falcons, but also other aggressive birds like crows, rooks, and ravens
- Wild or feral cats and dogs, as well as pet cats and dogs
- Ferret family members such as the polecat, stoat, and weasel
- Badgers and raccoons
- Wolves and foxes
- And, last but not least, humans
A rabbit’s greatest protection from predators is its senses. Rabbits have good hearing and long-distance eyesight, and quick reactions should they need to escape.
Rabbits reproduce very quickly, so despite their many predators, populations usually remain stable. A female rabbit can produce young at just three months old and give birth several times a year. Plus, baby rabbits only need a few weeks’ care before becoming independent.