What animals eat rabbits? Life can be tough if you happen to be a rabbit, because it seems like just about everyone finds them delicious. Birds, mammals, even reptiles are keen for a bite or two of fresh rabbit. This points to how important rabbits are in the wild food chain. And many different wild animals also rely on rabbits as a food source for their growing young. Today we’ll look at what eats rabbits, when they predate them and why rabbits are such a popular dish in the natural world.
Why Do So Many Animals Eat Rabbits?
Did you know there are at least 60 known species of rabbits and hares? Nearly half of these are cottontails, the adorable bunnies with short fluffy white tails. Yet rabbits come in all shapes and sizes. So do hares and pikas, their larger and smaller relations in the greater Lepidorae family.
This is important to know when we are taking a look at what animals eat rabbits. With the variation in size from one rabbit species to the next, small predators may be able to get a full meal from what would look like a light snack to a larger predator.
Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. This means both nocturnal (night) and diurnal (day) predators can take advantage of the chance to catch and eat a fresh rabbit dinner.
With so many different animals keen to hunt and eat rabbits, you might think rabbit populations are in danger today. Luckily, rabbits are resilient and adaptable. They are also fast breeders – so much so that in past centuries, predation is a tool to keep wild populations under control.
What Bites the Heads Off Rabbits?
Why would a hungry predator eat only part of a rabbit and leave the rest behind? Rabbit predators living in a time of plentiful prey have the luxury of being choosy. In this case, a predator might just eat the rabbit’s nutrient-rich brain and eyes.
But a more common scenario is that the predator gets interrupted mid-feast and is forced to leave the rest of the rabbit behind. Another common reason you might see a headless rabbit is when the predator animal gets full and is planning to cache the rest of the rabbit to eat later or bring back to its mate or young.
What Kills Rabbits At Night?
News reports will periodically surface about a fresh outbreak of decapitated or headless rabbits. Every time events like these make news headlines, people wonder what kills rabbits at night?
The most common culprits include larger owls, wolves, coyotes, raccoons and other notorious nocturnal predators. Feral cats and street dogs are also thought to be responsible for a percentage of these kills.
What Animals Eat Rabbits During the Day?
Rabbits make up such an important and widespread link in the greater food chain that sometimes it seems like they are on everyone’s menu! Daytime rabbit predators are far more numerous than their stealthier nocturnal counterparts.
Diurnal predators such as hawks, eagles, ravens and other birds of prey are keen to hunt rabbits during daylight hours. Reptiles like snakes and lizards and even alligators and crocodiles will eat rabbits whenever the opportunity arises. And warm-blooded mammals are also a principle group of rabbit predators.
What Animals Eat Rabbits As Roadkill?
Roadkill is never a pleasant topic of conversation. Yet the animals that keep our roads clean by snacking on these human-created casualties do us a great service. Vultures and buzzards are the main species that eat rabbits as roadkill. While many people assume these carnivorous birds rely on their eyesight to find a meal, they actually locate fresh roadkill meals (their favorite!) by scent.
Scavenger species such as opossums, some shorebirds, smaller omnivorous reptiles and many birds will also happily consume dead rabbits.
What Birds Eat Rabbits?
Rabbits are a favorite prey species for many birds, especially larger birds of prey like raptors. But smaller bird species may target baby rabbits, called kits, or eat the remains of a rabbit kill left behind by larger predators. Birds that routinely eat rabbits include:
What Mammals Eat Rabbits?
Mammals are the major group that rely on rabbits for their regular daily meals. Some mammals even preferentially hunt rabbits above all other prey species. The main mammals that eat rabbits include:
- Fisher cats
- Wild cats (examples include bobcats, pumas, mountain lions)
Small Mammals That Eat Rabbits?
Smaller mammals may not have the right toolkit to hunt adult rabbits, but they certainly can and do eat baby rabbits when they happen across them. Examples of smaller mammals that eat baby rabbits include:
Another super weird fact you may wish you didn’t know is that adult female rabbits have been known to eat their own babies right after giving birth. There are several possible reasons for this strange and gory behavior.
New rabbit moms may possibly experience panic after delivery. Food shortages, presence of nearby predators or the ability to sense health problems in the young may also be to blame.
What Reptiles Eat Rabbits?
Evolutionary biologists have traced rabbits all the way back to their earliest known ancestry a whopping 53 million years ago. Ancient rabbits were hamster-sized and weighed about the same as a half-pound burger.
While 53 million years ago may sound like a long time, consider that reptiles as a species date back more than 315 million years. Which means for carnivorous reptiles, rabbit has likely been a desirable food source for a very, very long time.
Large Reptiles That Eat Rabbits
Reptiles that are more likely to eat rabbits include:
- Snakes (examples include boas, pythons, anacondas, gopher snakes)
- Lizards (examples include Gila monsters, monitors, iguanas, Komodo dragons)
Even though most reptiles are not large enough to hunt and eat adult rabbits, there are many smaller reptiles that hunt baby rabbits, or kits.
Small Reptiles That Eat Rabbits
Examples of small reptiles that may eat baby rabbits include:
Interestingly, in the commercial pet food industry, frozen rabbits are a staple food source for many captive reptile species such as snakes and lizards.
What Animals Eat Rabbits?
Clearly, rabbit is always on the menu for any opportunistic predator that gets the chance. This also includes our own species, human animals. Rabbits are also raised commercially for use in the pet food trade.
In a world where everyone loves to eat rabbit, we are lucky that rabbits are able to survive and reproduce quickly. What would a world without rabbits look like? Hopefully we will never have to find out!
Have you ever eaten rabbit or fed rabbit protein to your pets? Share your story in the comments
Learn More About Wild Animal Diets
- Meier et al. “Forensic examination of a decapitated rabbit: interdisciplinary investigations on perpetrator’s traces.” Vet Record Case Reports, 2019.
- Hendricks et al. 2015. “The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life: Reptiles – Living Fossils”. Palaeontologia Electronica.
- Bool et al. “Species: Rabbit – Oryctolagus cuniculus.” Mammal Society, 2022.
- Severin et al. “European Rabbit.” Agriculture Victoria, 2021.