The first hare are born … PLEASE … don’t touch them … don’t take them away … The leverets are not orphaned!!!
European hares have a prolonged breeding season which lasts from January to August. Females, or does, can be found pregnant in all breeding months and males, or bucks, are fertile all year round except during October and November. After this hiatus, the size and activity of the males‘ testes increase, signalling the start of a new reproductive cycle. This continues through December, January and February when the reproductive tract gains back its functionality. Matings start before ovulation occurs and the first pregnancies of the year often result in a single foetus, with pregnancy failures being common. Peak reproductive activity occurs in March and April, when all females may be pregnant, the majority with three or more foetuses.
The mating system of the hare has been described as both polygynous (single males mating with multiple females) and promiscuous. Females have six-weekly reproductive cycles and are receptive for only a few hours at a time, making competition among local bucks intense. At the height of the breeding season, this phenomenon is known as „March madness“, when the normally nocturnal bucks are forced to be active in the daytime. In addition to dominant animals subduing subordinates, the female fights off her numerous suitors if she is not ready to mate. Fights can be vicious and can leave numerous scars on the ears. In these encounters, hares stand upright and attack each other with their paws, a practice known as „boxing“, and this activity is usually between a female and a male and not between competing males as was previously believed. When a doe is ready to mate, she runs across the countryside, starting a chase that tests the stamina of the following males. When only the fittest male remains, the female stops and allows him to copulate. Female fertility continues through May, June and July, but testosterone production decreases in males and sexual behaviour becomes less overt. Litter sizes decrease as the breeding season draws to a close with no pregnancies occurring after August. The testes of males begin to regress and sperm production ends in September.
Does give birth in hollow depressions in the ground. An individual female may have three litters in a year with a 41- to 42-day gestation period. The young have an average weigh of around 130 grams (4.6 oz) at birth. The leverets are fully furred and are precocial, being ready to leave the nest soon after they are born, an adaptation to the lack of physical protection relative to that afforded by a burrow. Leverets disperse during the day and come together in the evening close to where they were born.
Their mother visits them for nursing soon after sunset; the young suckle for around five minutes, urinating while they do so, with the doe licking up the fluid. She then leaps away so as not to leave an olfactory trail, and the leverets disperse once more. Young can eat solid food after two weeks and are weaned when they are four weeks old. While young of either sex commonly explore their surroundings, natal dispersal tends to be greater in males. Sexual maturity occurs at seven or eight months for females and six months for males.
Mortality and health
European hares are large leporids and adults can only be tackled by large predators such as canids, felids and the largest birds of prey. Further it was found that the mortality of hares by intoxication in agriculture next to predators was at its highest during the year. The golden eagle preys on the European hare in the Alps, the Carpathians, the Apennines and northern Spain. In North America, foxes and coyotes are probably the most common predators, with bobcats and lynx also preying on them in more remote locations.
European hares have both external and internal parasites. One study found that 54 percent of animals in Slovakia were parasitised by nematodes and over 90 percentby coccidia. In Australia, European hares were reported as being infected by four species of nematode, six of coccidian, several liver flukes and two canine tapeworms. They were also found to host rabbit fleas (Spilopsyllus cuniculi), stickfast fleas (Echidnophaga myrmecobii), lice (Haemodipsus setoni and H. lyriocephalus), and mites (Leporacarus gibbus).
European brown hare syndrome (EBHS) is a disease caused by a calicivirus similar to that causing rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHS) and can similarly be fatal, but cross infection between the two mammal species does not occur. Other threats to the hare are pasteurellosis, yersiniosis (pseudo-tuberculosis), coccidiosis and tularaemia, which are the principal sources of mortality.