Species of the month: April - Rabbit
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Name: European rabbit
Scientific Name: Oryctolagus cuniculus
Identification: Rabbits are one of the most recognisable animals of the British countryside, with fluffy white tales, greyish-brown fur and large ears. They could potentially be confused with brown hares, which are larger, with bigger ears (with black tips), longer back legs and a slightly longer tail. Rabbits reach a maximum length of about 40cm, and are more likely to be encountered in groups than hares.
Diet: Mostly comprised of grass and other plants, such as clovers, found in grassland habitats. In winter they may also strip bark from trees. Rabbits are also known to engage in ‘coprophagy’ – eating their own poo! This is important for ensuring that rabbits can extract all of the nutrients from their diet.
Behaviour: Rabbits are very social animals, living in colonies known as warrens. This is the name for the network of tunnels and holes that the rabbits live in. The main builders of warrens are the female rabbits. There is a strong hierarchy in rabbit society, with the most dominant bucks (males) having first mating rights with the does (females). Breeding usually takes place between January and August. The ‘kittens’ (new-born rabbits) are born blind and hairless, but within a month they are weaned, and by 4 months are able to breed. Up to 90% of rabbits die in their first year, with the oldest rabbits reaching no more than 3 years in the wild. They are a common prey item for all sorts of predators: foxes, stoats and buzzards to name a few.
Where can they be found?:
Rabbits can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from woodland edges to grasslands, roadside verges and even sand dunes!
There are many Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves where you will see rabbits, but some examples include: Happy Bottom in the Corfe Barrows Nature Park, Fontmell Down near Fontmell Magna and Powerstock Common near Maiden Newton.
Wildife Gardening Tips:
Rabbits are perhaps not an important part of a wildlife garden, but there are many things that you can do to support other mammals in your garden:
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