Today, we’re going to look at the question, “What do wild rabbits eat?”
Did you know, it’s different than the diet of domestic bunnies? Let’s look at how.
Odds are, if you’ve ever observed a pet bunny, you know exactly what they eat.
However, wild rabbits do not always have access to the wide array of vegetables and commercial rabbit foods that their domestic counterparts consume.
What, then, do wild rabbits eat? Do wild rabbits eat apples? Do they eat carrots?
In the summer, the answer might seem easy: “Well, grass and flowers, of course!” But can rabbits really live off of grass and flowers? Their domestic counterparts, after all, eat a more varied diet.
Plus, what about in the winter? What do rabbits eat when there is snow on the ground and no grass to be seen?
It is easy to see how this question can get complicated very quickly.
That is exactly why we wrote this handy guide. No matter what your interests are in learning about the wild rabbit diet, you’ll learn everything about what wild rabbits can eat by the end of this article.
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat?
Rabbits are, first and foremost, herbivores.
This means that they only eat plants and avoid meat and animal parts.
One long-term study done on European rabbits, in fact, discovered that wild rabbits very rarely, if at all, consume or even try to consume meat of other animal parts.
Furthermore, it was discovered that in the rare instances that wild rabbits did consume meat, it was actually their own young.
Therefore, it can be safely assumed that wild rabbits have no need for meat, and thrive off of a diet of plants alone. Still, this is a very vague answer and could do with some narrowing down.
Specifically speaking, wild rabbits consume green plants whenever available. This includes things such as clover, leafy weeds, grasses, shrubs, and leaves.
Wild rabbits eat plenty of grass, which acts as roughage and is good for their digestive systems.
However, wild rabbits are extremely picky with their food. They prefer fresh florae over all else, and are even sometimes described as climbing trees to reach the fresh leaves above.
They also tend to eat the part of the plant with the highest nitrogen content first.
They prefer foods that they can eat quickly and easily. If a leaf is particularly tough and is going to take longer than a second to tear, your average wild rabbit is going to find a different food source.
So, if you’re wondering “Do wild rabbits eat carrots?” the answer is, “Yes, they will, but it’s not their favorite.”
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat in the Winter?
Obviously, fresh, green foliage is not available in the winter time. So what do wild rabbits eat in the winter?
This really depends on the specific location. In areas that don’t see much snowfall, rabbits will mostly stick to dried, dead plants and whatever green stuff they can find.
Actually, in many place in the southern United States, there are green plants growing nearly all year around. Rabbits in these areas will stick to grazing on the few green plants they can find – even if they aren’t their favorite.
This is true where I live. Rabbits can be seen grazing in fields all year around because there are usually at least a few green plants still standing.
In areas with lots of snowfall, though, rabbits have to get crafty. Rabbits, after all, do not hibernate, and they have to eat something!
In these areas, rabbits often have to fall back on a diet of tree bark, twigs, and pine needles. A variety of these foods is preferred, and the bark of apple trees seems to be specifically valued.
How Much Water Do Wild Rabbits Need?
Water is actually extremely important for wild rabbits diet.
In fact, one study actually discovered that water intake was actually more important than food intake when it came to a rabbit retaining its weight.
In other words, rabbits who were provided with limited water but plenty of food lost significant weight when compared to your average rabbit.
This is due to the rabbit’s particular digestive system. Simply put, wild rabbit food requires a lot of water to digest. When this water isn’t available, they simply cannot digest the food they consume!
This might be one of the large reasons rabbits prefer fresh, green plants to others. These plants simply have the highest water content, and therefore allow the rabbit to fulfill its daily water need on top of providing nutrients and energy.
This is opposed to dry plants and bark, which do not contain very much water. If the rabbit eats these types of plants, he or she would have to find drinkable water elsewhere. This would take up valuable grazing time and increase the rabbit’s exposure to predators.
Basically, the choice to eat plants with a high water content simply makes sense for wild rabbits.
This might also explain why domestic rabbit’s diet is somewhat different from that of a wild rabbit’s diet. A domestic rabbit has ready access to water, and does not need to rely so heavily on its food to provide it.
What Do Wild Rabbits Like to Eat?
As is necessary for survival, wild rabbits do not usually eat foods based on their taste buds. Instead, their diet is largely comprised of what is available.
However, this does not mean that wild rabbits do not like some foods more than other. In fact, it has been found that wild rabbits do prefer certain types of plants.
As was previously stated, rabbits do not actually prefer carrots.
Instead, they would much rather munch on things like apple, peach, and cherry tree leaves and bark. They also prefer spruces and firs, as opposed to oaks.
Alongside these particular foods, rabbits prefer the greenest, freshest vegetation. So you might say, that’s a wild rabbit’s favorite food.
When Do Wild Rabbits Eat?
Now that we know the answer to the question “What do wild rabbits eat?” let’s explore when wild rabbits eat.
Rabbits tend to eat around dawn and dusk. These are the safest times for the wild rabbits to escape from their burrow or thick undergrowth and graze.
Mostly, this is because predators are generally less active at these times. Plus, the dim lighting makes it difficult for predators to spot the wild rabbit.
When the sun begins to rise or set, wild rabbits will graze vigorously. They often return to the same area each day, and therefore already know where their favorite plants are located.
After their stomachs have been somewhat filled, they will slow down and more selectively graze until the area is no longer safe. In all, these wild rabbits will only spend about two thirty-minute periods grazing a day.
Of course, this timetable can change depending on location and time of year. In the winter, a rabbit might have to spend more time grazing due to the lack of food and need to find water.
During these periods of intense feeding, rabbits will excrete hard fecal pellets. However, when they are resting, they excrete “cecotropes.”
These droppings are actually extremely nutritious. They are one of the main reasons rabbits can survive harsh winter conditions with little food.
Feeding A Wild Rabbit
First, veterinarians do not recommend feeding wild rabbits. However, if you find that you are caring for a wild rabbit as a result of an accident or other traumatic event, there are some things you should remember about feeding them.
You can provide hay, such as oat hay or timothy hay, in place of or in addition to grass. If you are feeding grass, make sure it has not been treated with chemicals.
Wild rabbits can eat pellet foods designed for domestic rabbits, but only in small amounts, as they are so nutrient-rich. They can also have green leafy vegetables – but not ones that cause gas, as they cannot pass it.
Please note, baby bunnies are difficult for humans to raise. Survival rates are not high when wild infant rabbits being taken care of by humans, and sometimes humans accidentally take them away from adult rabbits who have left the nest for a short time.
In the case of baby rabbits, getting them to a wildlife rehabilitation center quickly is your best bet.
What Can Wild Rabbits Eat?
Wild rabbits are actually very picky eaters, choosing to eat fresh, green vegetation over most vegetables.
In the winter, they can survive off of tree bark and twigs if the snow cover prevents them from reaching the dried grasses on the ground.
Truly, wild rabbits are extremely resilient and can survive in extremely tough conditions.
Do you have any memorable experiences with wild rabbits? Let us know in the comment section below!
References and Further Reading
Cooke, B. (1982). Reduction of Food Intake and Other Physiological Responses to a Restriction of Drinking Water in Captive Wild Rabbits, Oryctolagus Cuniculus (L.). Australian Wildlife Research.
Centre Technique Du Genie Rural Des Eaux et des Forets (1976). Observations sur les préférences alimentaires du lapin de garenne et les dégâts causés aux plantations forestières. ENGREF.
Blas, C. and Wiseman, J. (2010). Nutrition of the Rabbit. CAB International.
Lebas, Francois (2009). La Biologie du Lapin.
Southern, H. (1940). The Ecology and Population Dynamics of the Wild Rabbit. Bureau of Animal Population.