It’s a cold winter Sunday; snuggled in bed, you sip coffee reminiscing about the winters of your childhood. You get up and shoot up your thermostat to make it feel like the tropical rainforests. You rejoice about the fact that you don’t have to face the fast and cruel streets of New York. Life’s good, isn’t it?
In the privileged realm, it is, but what about the ones left out on the streets as Mercury dips to sub-zero temperatures? If you look outside, a certain animal that lacks the wit of a certain Bugs Bunny is struggling to survive.
Just outside your backyard (maybe even inside it), rabbits are looking for food. You know, the wild, cute, fluffy rabbits. The ones who depend on us to survive. Some feel responsible enough to adopt or feed them, but most of us don’t. Here’s how you can help the bunnies survive frosty winters
How Do Rabbits Survive Winter?
Well, most of the rabbits do enjoy the cool weather. Rabbits find temperatures as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit quite pleasant, while temperatures lower than that may cause them to get under the weather or even catch hypothermia.
Considering the average temperature during winters in the USA happens to be around 33.2 °F (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), the temperature is the least of all issues (but still is one) for rabbits.
Rabbits struggle to find food and shelter due to the lack of vegetation and humanitarian aid during the cold season. Cottontail rabbits do not have a high survival rate and usually fall prey to the harsh circumstances during the cold season.
European rabbits and most of the hares show many fast and advanced adaptations and do not usually rely on humanitarian aid.
Adaptation to the cold weather
Rabbits are confronted with many pertinent changes in the winter. And, in turn, adapt themselves to the atmosphere. The usual adaptations include growing a thicker fur, reducing activity and travel, and digging burrows to keep themselves warm.
Rabbits also experience increased ingestion of feces, which allows for the complete digestion of food that has already been eaten and enriches them with Vitamin B. It is common for rabbits to resort to a wood-based diet to ensure enough roughage to increase the rate of digestion.
Due to the lack of vegetation density, rabbits become much more visible for predators to spot. Wild rabbits usually hide in evergreen trees and dense wild bushes, so camouflage is a struggle in the snow.
Nuggets also can change their color to blend in with the white and grey landscape of the winter. Some folks in the states and a few other countries also spot wild rabbits seeking shelter in their yards.
Even during the lack of resources during winter, rabbits are maestros at finding food. Rabbits resort to the following diet during winter.
The ideal snack pack for rabbits during winters usually consists of twigs, dead stems, barks of dead trees, and woody plants such as the oak tree and willow.
Partially digested feces.
Rabbits must consume more than half of their partially digested feces owing to their ineffective digestive tracts. Rabbits obtain nutrients like Vitamin B through ingestion of their feces. Don’t try this at home!
Well, rabbits await winter to start breeding. Rabbits start breeding as early as late fall in the months of October and November. Wild rabbits start having their first litters as early as late November or late December.
They rebreed as early as the second after kindling the first litter and getting nasty. Aren’t we?
Rabbits do not hibernate at all. Surprisingly, their physical activity and playfulness exponentially increase during winters. Rabbits prefer cold weather over warm weather.
You won’t spot many rabbits during winters since they usually roam around during dusk or dawn; a tactical masterpiece to avoid getting spotted by predators due to the lack of light.
Usually, they seek food during these hours.
How do rabbits survive without hibernating?
Unlike other animals, rabbits are more than happy with the food available during winter. Hibernation involves putting your body in a dormant state leading to slothful bodily functions. Rabbits are unable to do that.
Hypothermia and other diseases
Although rabbits rejoice in winters, extreme conditions can put their life in a state of jeopardy. Temperatures less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit usually tend to be brutal for these furballs. Cities like New York, Chicago, and various others can be fatal for rabbits during peak winter.
If exposed to wet and damp conditions during extreme temperatures, rabbits can also catch pneumonia. In addition to this, older rabbits can catch arthritis during this season, which can be excruciatingly painful for them.
Lack of production of internal heat is termed hypothermia. Loss of breath, shivering, and slow heart rate are common symptoms. Make sure to check out for inactive and shivering rabbits in your yard; immediate veterinary care is advised in such cases.
How can you make a difference?
“Wild rabbits cannot be domestic.”
Yes, wild rabbits cannot be domesticated. But in rare cases, if you find a domestic rabbit abandoned in a cardboard box or roaming around the streets, make sure to bring the rabbit home and provide food, shelter, and love.
If you’re unable to adopt, make sure to contact nearby Animal Shelters such as Animal League America or Best Friends Animal Society.
In most cases, it is not advised to feed any particular food item to rabbits. But in case of heavy snow and extreme scarcity of food, grains, and hay are advised.
Winding it up
For me, rabbits are the most underrated animals were; they are as cute as dogs, as active as birds, and as clever as foxes. I feel they should be conserved and protected at all costs. Climate Change and other hazardous activities that humans do underscore our responsibility towards rabbits and, in fact, all animals.