Foraging through fields and forests, the wild rabbit embodies the spirit of opportunity and adaptability. Its quest for diverse foods reveals important secrets about nature’s seasonal bounty. What does this watchful creature nibble on during the lush days of spring? How does its diet shift when crisp fall arrives? And what sustains the rabbit through harsh winters when supplies run scarce? Join us on an adventure across the seasons to discover what fuels the wild rabbit’s survival, from tender greens to hidden bulbs. We’ll learn how rabbits find nourishment, outwit gardeners, and fill their bellies with nature’s seasonal treats. This guide uncovers the diets of wild rabbits across the changing year!
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat?
Wild rabbits are herbivores, meaning they only eat plant materials. Their diet consists primarily of grasses, clovers, wildflowers, weeds, leaves, buds, and bark. Rabbits are opportunistic feeders and will eat what is available based on the season. Their diet provides them with nutrients, minerals, and water. Rabbits have unique digestive systems that allow them to get nutrition out of fibrous and coarse plant materials.
Rabbits do not have a set menu or meal plan. They forage for a wide variety of plant foods that meet their nutritional needs. Rabbits like to eat green leafy plants, gnaw on tree branches and twigs, dig up roots, and munch on fruits, seeds, and nuts when available. Wild rabbits will consume over 800 different types of plants. Their diverse palate allows them to adapt to different habitats.
A wild rabbit's diet consists of about 80% grasses and legumes. This includes grains such as oats, wheat, and barley. They also eat clover, timothy hay, ryegrass, bluegrass, fescue, and Bermuda grass. Tender young grass shoots are preferable over mature grasses. Rabbits especially love the tender greens of dandelions, clover, vetch, and alfalfa.
After grasses, forbs and weeds make up the bulk of a rabbit's menu. They forage on plantains, mustards, mallows, ragweed, milkweed, asters, and snowberry. Rabbits also enjoy the leaves, stems, buds, and flowers of broadleaf weeds and wildflowers. These provide protein and nutrients as well as moisture.
The remaining 20% of a rabbit's diet in the wild may consist of twigs, bark, branches, roots, fruits, seeds, and fungi. Rabbits gnaw on woody vegetation for the inner nutritious bark. This also helps wear down their teeth which grow continuously. Berries, seeds, nuts, and fruits supplement nutrient intake when available seasonally. Rabbits may also eat insects, snails, or carrion on rare occasions.
Overall a wild rabbit's diverse plant diet provides energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. Their unique digestive system called hindgut fermentation allows them to extract nutrients from foods high in cellulose. Wild rabbits eat a balanced diet composed of a variety of plants available in their habitat.
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat In Spring?
In the spring, wild rabbits begin eating new green vegetation as it becomes available. During this season their diet consists mainly of succulent greens, grasses, clovers, and newly sprouted plants.
As the weather warms in spring, cool weather grasses such as fescues and ryegrass start growing again. Rabbits greedily graze on the tender new growth. They also eat wheat and cereal grain grasses sprouting in fields.
Early spring flowers provide rabbits with moisture and nutrients. They enjoy munching on dandelion greens, violet leaves, clover blossoms, daisy flowers, primrose flowers, and wild strawberry plants. Parts of flower buds and stems also supplement their diet.
Leafy greens thriving in spring provide rabbits with protein-rich food. They eat young leaves, shoots, and stems of clover, alfalfa, vetch, milkweed, thistles, mustard greens, and broccoli rabe. Leaf lettuces and other greens are a delectable part of spring forage.
Rabbits also gnaw on the nutritious inner bark of woody shrubs and trees in the spring. Apple tree bark and twigs are favorites. This wears down and strengthens their continuously growing teeth. Berries and fruits are scarce in early spring but snacking on berries supplements their diet when available.
Overall the spring diet of wild rabbits consists mainly of digestible greens, forbs, grasses, and veggies overflowing with nutrients. Flower parts also provide extra protein and moisture. The easily digestible spring plants provide energy and nutrition after lean winter months.
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat In Summer?
The summer diet of wild rabbits includes grasses, flowers, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, and grains. The abundant variety and supply of summer plants allow rabbits to be picky and only eat the choicest parts.
In summer rabbits continue to graze on their favorite grasses including fescues, barley plant, and brome grass. The tender young shoots and leaves are preferred over tough mature grasses. Clover and alfalfa also continue to thrive in summer providing important proteins.
Weeds like dandelions, chickweed, lamb’s quarters, and wild lettuce are an important part of summer diet. Rabbits also enjoy the leaves, stems, flowers, seeds, and buds of broadleaf plants like ragweed, thistles, and milkweed.
Summer provides rabbits with tons of leafy greens to munch on. They eat lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and other greens. Home vegetable gardens are easy targets for hungry rabbits to acquire greens.
Fruits supplement summertime nutrition with natural sugars and vitamins. Rabbits eat fruits like berries, apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, and melons. Garden vegetables like peas, beans, squash, and tomatoes may also be sampled.
Seeds and nuts are a tasty addition to the diverse summer diet. Rabbits eat grains and seeds from grasses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and cones. This provides healthy fats, fiber, and minerals.
Overall, rabbits can be pickier in summer when greenery is plentiful. They browse on their favorite parts of nutrient-rich grasses, greens, veggies, fruits, seeds, and nuts. This diverse diet provides all the energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals rabbits need to thrive.
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat In Fall?
In fall, wild rabbits shift their diet to prepare for winter. They eat hearty greens, bark, twigs, buds, dried grasses, fruits, seeds, roots, and tubers. Rabbits focus on foods to boost fat reserves and provide nourishment.
Throughout fall, rabbits continue grazing on fresh new growth of grasses and clovers as long as possible. Once grasses become dried up, rabbits rely more on the inner bark of woody branches and twigs. Protein-rich alfalfa and clover remain green longer into fall, sustaining rabbits.
Nuts, fruits, tubers, and seeds supplement the fall diet. Rabbits eat acorns, pecans, walnuts, hickory nuts, beechnuts and pine nuts. Windfall apples, pears, and berries also provide important nutrients. Storing body fat before winter is crucial so rabbits will eat every seed and nut they can find.
Rabbits gnaw on woody twigs and dig up roots for the starch. Bark from trees becomes important in fall and winter. Rabbits especially enjoy the nutritious cambium layer of inner bark from apple and ash trees.
Hardy greens that persist into fall include dandelions, clover, vetch, wild lettuces, and cabbage. Kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach also last in gardens and supplement the natural diet. Rabbits stock up on nourishing greens before the first frost.
The fall focus is on fat and calorie-rich foods to prepare for winter. Bark, twigs, nuts, seeds, fruits, roots, and greens are important. Rabbits also drink more water in fall to stay hydrated before sources freeze over.
What Do Wild Rabbits Eat In Winter?
Wild rabbits rely on woody vegetation, twigs, bark, dried grasses, buds, and any greens they can find in winter. Their diet in winter lacks variety due to the scarcity of fresh vegetation.
In winter, rabbits browse on the nutritious inner bark of woody shrubs and trees. Apple tree bark is a favorite winter food. Rabbits also gnaw on the inner bark of ash, maple, birch, pine, and oak trees.
Twigs and woody branches are eaten for the nutritious cambium layer just under the bark. Rabbits also gnaw on twigs and small branches for the soft, nutrient-rich pith. These provide sustenance when plant foods are scarce.
Dried grasses including farley, quackgrass and brome become important when greens are hard to find. Rabbits will dig through snow to find any greens left over or preserved under the snowpack. Dandelions, clover, vetch and other green remnant provide needed vitamins when possible.
Buds and shoots of woody plants offer nutrition and are an important part of winter fare. Rabbits eat the buds of trees, shrubs, and even acorns once the nut inside is eaten. Conifer needles from pine, spruce, and juniper supplement vitamin C.
Rabbits eat bark, woody twigs, dried grasses, and any greens they can find in winter to sustain themselves. Supplementing fat reserves from fall is crucial to make it through cold months until spring returns. Access to fresh drinking water is also challenging in winter months.
What Kinds Of Plants Do Wild Rabbits Prefer?
Wild rabbits have eclectic tastes when it comes to preferred plants. However, they do exhibit certain tastes and tendencies that guide their foraging habits.
Rabbits favor green leafy plants as the bulk of their diet. Greens like grasses, clovers, forbs, weeds, lettuces, brassicas, and alfalfa provide protein, nutrients, and moisture. The most nutritious parts of plants include the apical meristem, young shoots, leaves, buds and flowers which rabbits preferentially eat.
Seedlings and young plants are preferred over older, woodier plants. Younger plants have more tender cell walls that are easier for rabbits to break down and digest. Plants early in development contain more protein and nutrients as well.
Broadleaf herbaceous plants are favorites of rabbits. These include weeds, wildflowers like dandelions and clover as well as lettuces, mustard greens, and cabbages. The broader leaves have more surface area for efficient feeding and provide hydration.
Rabbits also exhibit preferences for certain trees and woody plants. Apple trees are a favorite food year-round due to the highly digestible and nutritious bark. Pine and spruce needles and inner bark also provide important nutrients.
In general, rabbits like a diverse diet and will sample many plants, but focus feeding on younger, greener, broader leaved plants. Favorites include grasses, clovers, brassica, lettuces, and young buds, shoots, leaves and twigs which provide the most nutrition and energy.
Do Wild Rabbits Eat Vegetables?
Wild rabbits will eat vegetables opportunistically, especially garden vegetables that are easily accessed. However vegetables do not make up a significant portion of the natural wild rabbit diet.
Rabbits will feed on vegetables as a supplemental food source when they manage to get into gardens, farms, and crop fields. Some favorites plundered from gardens include sweet peas, beans, squash, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots and beets. They do not hesitate to sample cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous veggies. Rabbits are also known to nibble on tomatoes and corn.
Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale and parsley are readily consumed when rabbits find them. Other herb garden favorites include dill, basil, mint and celery tops. Rabbits may eat fruits like strawberries or raspberries opportunistically from gardens as well.
Although rabbits enjoy vegetables, they do not specifically seek them out in the wild. Vegetables provide moisture and nutrients, but lack some of the nutrition in wild greens and plants. Garden vegetables are more like treat snacks than dietary staples for wild rabbits. But they will certainly help themselves when given the easy opportunity.
How Do Rabbits Know What To Eat?
Rabbits do not forage randomly – they have evolved senses and instincts that guide their plant feeding habits. Smell, sight, taste and learned experience help rabbits locate optimal nutrition.
Scent is the primary sense guiding a rabbit's foraging. They have a highly developed sense of smell that leads them to tender, growing vegetation. The aromatic compounds that plants release as they photosynthesize attract rabbit feedings.
Sight helps as well. Rabbits search out greener plants that indicate higher protein and nutrient content. Younger seedlings and shoots are also visually identified.
Taste is another important factor. If a certain food is not palatable or does not provide the nutrients a rabbit needs, it will avoid eating that plant in the future after sampling it. Through taste, rabbits learn which foods support health.
Wild rabbits learn from mothers and peers which plants provide the best nutrition. Knowledge of seasonal changes and food availability is passed down. This collective knowledge and learning optimizes their foraging success.
Instincts also guide rabbits toward nutrient-dense plant parts. They naturally favor younger shoots, leaves, soft twigs and buds which support their nutritional needs best. Senses and experience work together to help rabbits identify optimal forage.
Why Do Pet Rabbits Need Different Food?
Domestic pet rabbits have different dietary needs than wild rabbits. Pet rabbits require balanced rabbit pellets and hay along with vegetable supplements. The difference comes from selective breeding and the restrictions of captive environments.
Wild and domestic rabbit digestive systems differ due to selective breeding. Domestic breeds process food differently and may have more sensitive stomachs. The richer variety of wild plants also provides micronutrients missing in commercial feeds.
In the wild, rabbits eat diverse plants to obtain a complete nutritional profile. Commercial rabbit diets are designed to provide balanced nutrition in concentrated pellet formulas. But vegetable supplementation is still needed.
Pet rabbits are confined and cannot selectively forage optimal foods like wild rabbits. Their feeding must be managed for them. Owners must provide a variety of vegetables to supplement commercial feeds for micronutrients and hydration.
The restricted movement of domestic rabbits also requires management to maintain dental health. Hay is essential to wear down constantly growing teeth. Wild rabbits naturally gnaw and browse more vigorously on twigs and bark.
Overall pet rabbits benefit from specialized commercial diets and owner management to supplement nutrition, dental health, hydration and feeding variety they would get naturally in the wild. This compensates for selective breeding impacts and captivity.
Can I Feed A Wild Rabbit?
It is not recommended to feed wild rabbits yourself. Human food can harm them and feeding encourages potentially problematic reliance. Rabbits are adapted to forage successfully for their own needs when living naturally in a suitable habitat.
Feeding wild rabbits facilitates unhealthy dependence on unnatural, easy food sources. It causes a dangerous lack of fear of humans and can attract predators. Expecting food from people ultimately harms wild animals.
Dietary needs of wild rabbits are different from pets or humans. Many human foods are too rich, fatty, sugary, or lack proper nutrients. Inappropriate foods can cause digestive issues and health problems over time.
Wild rabbits readily transmit diseases to pets and people through contact, feces, fleas, etc. Feeding brings wild rabbits in close proximity to people, increasing disease transmission risks.
Feeding can also encourage rabbits to multiply beyond what local ecosystems can naturally support. Without natural checks on populations, overcrowding, starvation, and damage to other flora and fauna can occur.
To support wild rabbits, focus instead on providing suitable natural habitat free of pesticides, with continuous access to greenspace. Avoid feeding and let them thrive on nature’s provisions as intended on their own.
Do Rabbits Eat Flower Bulbs?
Yes, rabbits are known to feed on flower bulbs which presents an ongoing struggle for gardeners. Tulips, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and other flowering bulbs are all at risk of rabbit damage.
Flower bulbs provide a starchy, high calorie food source that is nourishing for rabbits. They will readily dig up freshly planted bulbs or eat emerging stems and leaves. The damage can be disheartening for gardeners excited to see spring flowers bloom.
However, there are strategies to protect bulbs from hungry rabbits. Fencing around gardens is the best defense but takes effort. Individual wire cages can protect specific plantings. Solid bottom barriers installed a few inches deep block access from underground.
Repellent sprays using pungent smells of garlic, chili pepper, fox urine or other natural ingredients may deter rabbits. Motion activated sprinklers and yard lights can also startle them away from gardens temporarily.
Finally, focusing rabbit damage on decoy plantings away from the main garden can mitigate losses. Sacrificing some bulbs saves the rest. There are many methods to creatively coexist with these hungry visitors to enjoy both rabbits and flowers.
In summary, wild rabbits are herbivores that eat a diverse variety of plants based on seasonal availability. Their spring diet focuses on tender new greens, grasses, buds, flowers and bark. In summer they eat more seeds, grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables opportunistically. Bark, twigs, roots and remaining hearty greens become important in fall and winter. Rabbits use their senses of smell and sight to locate nutrient-rich foods their digestive system is adapted to. While wild rabbits sometimes eat vegetables and can damage gardens, it is unhealthy to feed them. With thoughtful coexistence, rabbits and humans can both thrive.