The snowshoe hare or “rabbit”, as it is often inaccurately called, is one of our most common forest mammals. It is a key prey species for lynx, coyote, fox, mink, great horned owls and goshawks. The survival rate for first year hares varies from 3 to 40 percent; that of adult hares 12 to 50 percent.
Snowshoe hares are physically well adapted for eastern Canada’s changing climate. Large well-furred hind feet enable the snowshoe hare to move easily over snow.
Seasonal changes in day length trigger a colour change from brown in summer to almost pure white in winter. Their large ears help to regulate body temperature and also detect approaching predators.
Snowshoe hares normally have four litters a year. Breeding begins in late March or early April and litters are born at about 5 week intervals. Litter size varies from one to nine. Young snowshoe hares weigh about 60 grams at birth and reach an adult weight of 1.5 to 2.0 kg at five months.
Snowshoe hare population levels peak every 10 years and then drop. These highs and lows greatly affect the population level of predators that depend heavily on hares.
The home range of a snowshoe hare does not usually exceed 8 hectares. Rain, snow or wind often greatly reduces activity. A lead or runway is frequently used as a travel-lane between feeding and resting sites.