How Do Wild Rabbits Stay Warm in the Winter?

Wild rabbits are capable of staying warm in the winter due to thick coats of fur.

Rabbits can grow thick fur coats or go through a shedding process called molting.

Therefore, this takes place before the winter, in which they shed their lighter fur and regrow a thick coat.

As a result, they can regulate their bodies’ temperature and survive even freezing temperatures.

That said, there are other aspects that aid their survival as well. So, this article will discuss how wild rabbits stay warm in the winter in detail.

Ways Wild Rabbits Stay Warm in the Winter

Unlike some animals, rabbits don’t hibernate during the winter to survive the cold.

Instead, a variety of aspects help them stay comfortable even in harsh weather. Here’s how these animals adapt to the cold.

Molting and Growing Fur

Most rabbits undergo molting once a year, but some do it twice. They shed their fur and grow a thicker coat before the winter.

This way, they can stay warm and search for food despite the cold.

On the other hand, they shed after the winter. In this case, they remove the thick fur and replace it with a lighter coat.

As a result, they can survive the warm temperatures and not feel hot or develop skin problems. Almost all rabbits shed during this time.

Most rabbits, however, don’t need to shed their fur to grow a thicker coat. Instead, they grow thicker fur over their existing coat.

Eating a Diet That Keeps Them Warm

Even though rabbits manage to survive through winters, they don’t go far searching for food.

Therefore, they consume a diet that comprises mostly of wood-based foods during the winter.

Wood-Based Foods During the Winter

The foods they eat include rose bush buds, bark, and twigs.

Moreover, they consume plants like oak trees, birch, and willow. Rabbits also eat sumac bushes.

Grains During the Winter

Of course, the exact diet will depend on where the wild rabbit is located.

So, if they have can find grains of wheat, soybeans, and corn, they will eat them.

Fatty Foods Before the Winter

Rabbits prepare for the winter before the season begins.

Therefore, they consume fatty foods to increase the amount of fat in their bodies.

Fat Helps with Heat Generation

The fat helps heat generation in their bodies.

When the external temperature is low, rabbits begin to burn fat on their bodies without doing much activity.

As the fat burns, the body manages to produce heat. Thus, that, in turn, allows these animals to regulate their bodies’ temperatures.

However, in some cases, the rabbit may exhaust its own fat reserve. What it does then is gain heat from the fat and glucose present in food.

Thus, the brown adipose tissue found in rabbits oxidizes fat and glucose to produce heat.

Fat Helps Provide Insulation from the Cold on Their Bodies

In addition to heat generation, layers of fat provide insulation from the cold.

This way, there is minimal change in their internal temperature.

Staying Relatively Inactive

Another way that rabbits increase heat generation is by staying relatively inactive during the winter.

This way, they manage to hold onto the fat their bodies have gained.

Rabbits Only Use Energy When Searching for Food

Less activity results in fewer calories burned. As a result, they can maintain the optimal internal temperature.

Therefore, rabbits only use their energy when they need to go out to search for food. However, they don’t consume much energy during that process because they don’t have to travel far for food.

What this means is that rabbits sit still for most of their day. If they do move other than for food, it’s within a small, safe space.

Building Nests Made of Straw

Rabbits also prepare for the cold beforehand by creating nests made of straw and grass.

These materials help act as an insulator from the cold by helping them trap their body heat.

Digging Burrows, Sheltering in Existing Ones, and Hiding Near Garages

Where a rabbit stays during the winter is central to how it stays warm in the cold months.

Therefore, in most cases, rabbits dig burrows. They also build warrens, which are networks of burrows.

Staying in Underground Burrows Keeps Them Away from Cold Winds

These burrows provide shelter and keep them warm because they are underground.

Therefore, the rabbits are not exposed to cold winds.

Rabbits Dig Burrows Close to Trees

For the winter, rabbits mostly dig burrows near trees and other forms of vegetation. This way, they can access their food without needing to travel much.

In addition to reducing the amount of activity they do, this step ensures that they stay clear from the wind.

It also, of course, keeps them away from predators.

Some Rabbits Don’t Dig Burrows

Some rabbits, such as the cottontail rabbit, choose to stay in other animals’ burrows.

Therefore, these rabbits don’t dig their own burrows. However, they make sure that they stay clear of potentially dangerous animals.

They May Also Choose to Hide Under Vegetation Instead

If they can’t find an appropriate burrow, they may choose to hide under woody vegetation.

The vegetation provides sufficient insulation while also keeping them safe from predators.

Thick bushes and trees are also safe hiding spaces for staying warm and clear of predators.

Some rabbits also choose to hide in stumps that are hollowed out.

Suburban Rabbits Hide Near Garages

Wild rabbits that live in suburban areas may not find appropriate spaces to build burrows.

In that case, they may choose to hide and stay wherever it’s warm.

So, they find warmth in garages, especially those that aren’t frequented much.

They may also create nests within garages with straw and grass for better insulation. You may also see some rabbits hiding porches.

Suburban Rabbits Hide Under Cars

They may also stay under cars because they’re typically warm right after being driven.

So, make sure to check if there’s a wild bunny hiding near your car before you drive it in the winter.

Suburban Rabbits Hide in Your Yard

Suburban rabbits often hide in people’s yards because it’s warm and close to food sources.

If you have pets that play in your yard, don’t let them go there before checking for wild rabbits first.

Your pet could potentially scare away the rabbit. As a result, it may not have a safe place to stay.

Rabbits May Hide Near Agricultural Lands

Rabbits choose their winter shelter location based on two factors. The first is safety from the cold and predators.

The second is being close to food sources.

So, it will only pick the areas mentioned above if there are wood-based food sources close by.

That is also why some rabbits choose to stay close to bushy areas near agricultural fields. They can find waste agricultural grains in these areas to feed on.

Staying With Other Rabbits

Most rabbits choose to stay in groups during the winter in their burrows.

The advantage of that is they can stay warm from each others’ body heat.

What Temperature Can Rabbits Survive In During the Winter?

With all the ways that rabbits keep warm, they can survive in temperatures as low as 32 degrees F.

That said, they can’t stay in such cold weather for long periods.

That is why they quickly get their food and head back to shelter.

There, the temperatures are warmer, allowing it to stay comfortably. Moreover, the presence of other rabbits helps with staying warm.

What Is the Normal Body Temperature for Rabbits?

The Michigan State University claims that the normal body temperature for rabbits is between 102 and 103 degrees F.

Therefore, all the measures these animals take above ensure that the internal temperature doesn’t fall below that.

Why Rabbits Do Not Hibernate to Stay Warm

It’s understandable to be curious why rabbits don’t hibernate during the winter. Hibernation slows down the body’s processes, and the animal stays asleep for months.  

Well, animals hibernate mostly because of the scarcity of food during the winter. So, it’s not primarily because of the cold.

Rabbits can find food relatively easily as long as they shelter in an appropriate location.

Therefore, there’s no reason for rabbits to hibernate. In addition to that, they have various other ways of adapting to the cold.

How Cecortropes Can Help With the Scarcity of Food

Another reason why rabbits don’t face any issue with getting nutrition during the winter is because of cecotropes.

Cecotropes are feces that are partially digested.

Therefore, rabbits consume them in addition to their regular diets. Doing so allows these creatures to absorb more nutrients from the food they’ve already consumed.

Cecotropes are often a good source of Vitamin B. Therefore, rabbits can make the most out of the food that’s available to them. This is done by consuming it twice.

How This Can Help With Staying Warm

In a way, this activity also helps rabbits stay warm.

They get to consume the same food twice without needing to go out and search for more. In turn, they can spend less time in the cold and more in their burrows.

Different Ways You Can Help Wild Rabbits Stay Warm in the Winter

As explained above, wild rabbits don’t need help from humans to stay warm in the winter. However, many do tend to die if they don’t get appropriate shelter and food.

While it’s best not to be too intrusive, you can make small adjustments to your outdoor space to help. So, wild rabbits can find some shelter and bits of food.

You must remember the idea is to help create a space that rabbits may come to. So, you shouldn’t actively make a rabbit shelter. Also, you should only try this if you live in suburban spaces.

With that said, here’s what you can do.

Make It Easier fo Rabbits to Build Nests

Rabbit nests are what keep them safe from the cold and predators.

So, you can try improving the existing cover for rabbits. Thus, you can pile limbs and brush materials beside trees.

In addition to that, you should not mow areas that grow weeds. The weeds allow rabbits to find shelter and create escape routes.

You could also create fence lines near trees and ponds.

Over time, weeds will grow over the fence lines. In turn, that will provide additional shelter and warmth for wild rabbits.

It’s best not to try and create a shelter space in your home.

However, if you plan on helping feed it, then you can make adjustments to outdoor spaces near your home.

Keep Food Sources Nearby

It’s important that you must not create a feeding station near your home. Doing so will attract various types of animals.

In that case, the unnatural proximity could spread diseases or cause infections among them.

The purpose of giving rabbits a food source (other than having full bellies) is to allow them to retain their fat content for heat production.

Moreover, consuming the food can directly produce heat.

Place Twigs and Small Branches in Your Yard

Instead, what you should do is place twigs and small branches in your yard.

These wood food sources will also ensure that other animals don’t come to your yard for food.

Don’t Trim Your Lawn

By not trimming your lawn, you can allow some weeds and dandelions to grow. Wild rabbits can snack on them.

Make sure not to leave fruits and vegetables on your lawn. You may attract raccoons instead.

Moreover, don’t try to feed any of the rabbits by hand. You should also instruct your children not to do so.

The rabbits could potentially be carrying diseases. Also, you may scare the rabbits away.

At the same time, don’t try to make rabbits dependent on unnatural food sources. Help only in moderation.

They could also end up ruining your lawn if you’re not careful.

Last Few Words

Wild rabbits are perfectly capable of surviving freezing winters.

However, some can succumb to the cold if they can’t find adequate food, warmth, and shelter.

If many wild rabbits in your area are suffering, you could try to help.

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