Where Do Wild Rabbits Go in the Winter?

Bitter winds howl as ice and snow blanket the land. The landscape appears devoid of life, too harsh for creatures to endure. But the rabbits remain!Far from fleeing, these hardy animals embrace winter’s wrath. How do they survive? What tricks allow rabbits to hop merrily through the frozen months? Delve into the amazing adaptations that make rabbits masters of the winter wonderland. Through creative sheltering, foraging, and fortress-like fur, rabbits prevail. Journey into the snow-covered world of the rabbit and discover the ingenious ways they thrive in the most unforgiving season! When it comes to cold-weather survival, rabbits have it down to a science.

Where Do Rabbits Go In The Winter?

Rabbits do not migrate or hibernate in the winter like some other animals. Instead, they stay active all winter long and adapt to survive the cold weather. Wild rabbits have a few key strategies to make it through the winter: seeking shelter, finding food sources, and using physiological and behavioral adaptations to handle the cold.

In the wild, rabbits will stay in the same general area throughout the winter. Their home range may shrink as food becomes scarcer, but they do not make long migrations. Rabbits are highly territorial and will stick to areas that provide food and shelter. This includes yards, parks, fields, and brushy areas. They may move around within this territory to find better shelter options as the weather changes.

Underground burrows and dens provide the main shelter for wild rabbits in winter. Rabbits spend more time tucked away in burrows when temperatures drop. The burrows help insulate them from wind and cold. Rabbits often have multiple burrow entrances and extensive tunnel systems to give them choices of shelters. When snow falls, rabbits will tunnel through the snow to keep their burrows accessible. Log piles, dense brush, and other covered spots also provide refuge.

Though their range shrinks, rabbits still need to emerge and find food during the winter. Twigs, bark, tough grasses, and other greenery remain accessible. Rabbits gnaw through snow and ice to reach food. They will also scavenge any remaining garden plants, fruits, or berries available. Rabbits rely on their cached food reserves less in milder winters. Stored body fat provides energy when fresh food becomes scarce.

Staying put with access to food, water, and shelter allows wild rabbits to survive the changing conditions of winter. Their adaptations help them handle the colder temperatures even in harsher northern climates. With preparation and resourcefulness, rabbits are well equipped to make it through the winter season.

How Do Rabbits Adapt to Cold Weather?

Rabbits have several key physical and behavioral adaptations to survive frigid winter temperatures:

  • Thick fur coat – A rabbit's fur provides excellent insulation from the cold. The coat consists of a dense, soft undercoat closest to the skin covered by longer guard hairs. By fluffing out this coat, rabbits create an insulating air layer next to their body.

  • High body fat – Rabbits build up fat reserves in fall to create energy stores for winter. The fat provides insulation as well.

  • Smaller ears – The blood vessels in a rabbit's large ears act as radiators to release excess heat. In winter, blood circulation to the ears is reduced so less heat is lost.

  • Snowshoe-like paws – Long fur on the bottom of the feet insulates paws against frozen ground. Spread-out, furry toes give them traction like snowshoes to move through snow.

  • Burrowing – Underground burrows and tunnels protect rabbits from harsh elements and keep a stable temperature below freezing.

  • Nesting – Nests lined with fur or grass inside burrows contain body heat to keep rabbits warm.

  • Huddling – Rabbits will huddle together in cold temperatures. By cuddling up, they share body warmth.

  • Reduced activity – Rabbits conserve energy by moving less in the winter. They rest and sleep more to avoid wasting body heat.

  • Fur molting – Rabbits molt some fur in fall to increase insulation. They then grow a thicker winter coat.

  • Shivering – Shivering warms up muscles and generates heat. It helps rabbits raise their body temperature when necessary.

With these adaptations, rabbits are well equipped to thrive even in freezing, snowy northern climates throughout the winter. Their coats, fat stores, burrowing behaviors, and physiological responses all help them handle the cold.

Where Do Rabbits Shelter in Cold Weather?

Rabbits rely on a variety of good shelters to protect them from harsh winter weather:

  • Underground burrows – Burrow systems with multiple entrances and chambers below the frost line are ideal shelters. The burrows stay at a stable temperature below freezing. Rabbits spend most of the winter resting in their underground burrows.

  • Brush piles – Piles of branches, sticks, leaves, and debris left in fields and yards provide great cover. Rabbits often rest and nest in these insulated spots above ground when not in their burrows.

  • Thickets – Dense stands of shrubs, young trees, and brambles form protective thickets. Rabbits stay dry and shielded from wind and snow here.

  • Log piles – Stacked logs or fallen trees make good windbreaks. Rabbits snuggle down in the spaces between logs to stay warm.

  • Hollow logs – Rotting, hollowed out logs offer enclosed spaces protected from the elements.

  • Porches and sheds – Under decks or porches and inside open sheds are attractive to rabbits in suburban areas.

  • Snow tunnels – Rabbits often dig branching tunnel systems through the snow to reach food and access different burrows. The snow provides insulation.

  • Nest boxes – Wood or plastic nesting boxes partially buried and filled with straw make great winter rabbit shelters for suburban yards.

Rabbits often have multiple shelters prepared within their territory. They rotate to choose the best option based on the current weather and snow cover. Taking advantage of existing natural shelters helps wild rabbits survive whatever winter throws at them.

What Do Rabbits Eat In The Winter?

Though their food supply dwindles in winter, rabbits are resourceful foragers and eat a varied diet including:

  • Bark and twigs – Rabbits gnaw through the bark and woody stems of trees and shrubs. These provide sustenance when herbaceous plants die back.

  • Conifer needles – Evergreens provide year-round greenery. Rabbits stand on hind legs to reach juniper, spruce, pine and other needle-bearing twigs.

  • Rose branches – Leafless rose canes and branches are a favorite winter food.

  • Fruit tree shoots – Rabbits nibble the nutrient-rich bark and flexible twigs of fruit tree saplings.

  • Sumac stems – The pithy shoots of sumac shrubs persist through winter and are high in vitamins.

  • Dried grasses – Tough stalks and seed heads of grasses, sedges and rushes stand above the snow. Rabbits gnaw through snow and ice to access these fibrous foods.

  • Root vegetables – Carrots, sweet potatoes and other garden vegetables left in the ground provide needed moisture. Rabbits dig through snow and soil to find them.

  • Grains – Any dropped ears of field corn, wheat or barley are quickly consumed by rabbits.

  • Cached greens – Rabbits eat their stored piles of dried meadow hay and other greens when fresh foods are unavailable.

  • Buds and twigs of shrubs and vines like wild rose, blackberry, bittersweet, and wild grape also offer nutrition through the winter. Rabbits are not picky and eat almost any plant matter they can find. The variety helps them get the nutrients and calories they need to survive the long winter months.

Do Rabbits Hibernate In The Winter?

No, rabbits do not hibernate in the winter. They remain active all season long, though they may spend more time resting in sheltered spots out of the weather.

Unlike bears and some other mammals, rabbits do not enter into a deep sleep or greatly lower their body temperature and metabolism for the whole winter. However, rabbits do exhibit some torpor-like behaviors in the winter that provide energy savings:

  • More time resting – Rabbits spend more time inactive and asleep during the winter, especially on bitterly cold days. This helps conserve calories.

  • Cooler body temperature – A rabbit's body temperature can drop just a few degrees. This reduces metabolism and energy use. But their body temperature does not fall as dramatically as true hibernators.

  • Slower breathing and heart rate – When resting, rabbits have slowed breathing and heart rates. This helps them avoid wasting energy.

  • Less frequent urination and defecation – Rabbits produce less urine and limit bowel movements to retain more water and nutrients. Their digestive system works more slowly.

  • Lethargy in extreme cold – Rabbits can become quite lethargic in response to frigid temperatures, moving little. But they rouse quickly and do not enter a deep hibernation-like sleep.

While not true hibernators, rabbits have excellent survival adaptations for winter that are similar to hibernation in some respects. Their ability to rest deeply, conserve energy, and tap into fat reserves helps them endure cold periods while remaining able to flee from danger or seek out food when needed.

How Do Wild Rabbits Keep Warm In The Winter?

In addition to sheltering in burrows and thickets, rabbits use several strategies to maintain their body heat when braving winter conditions:

  • Insulating fur coat – The dense undercoat and long guard hairs trap air to form an insulating buffer against the cold. Rabbits keep their coat well-groomed for maximum fluffiness.

  • Huddling – By huddling close with other rabbits, they share body warmth. This decreases heat loss.

  • Spherical posture – When resting, rabbits pull in their limbs and tuck in their ears to reduce exposed surface area and retain core body heat.

  • Seeking sunshine – Rabbits bask in sunny spots to soak up radiant warmth from the sun when possible.

  • Wind barriers – Taking shelter behind logs, brush or snow drifts blocks chilling winds.

  • Heat from fermenting food – A rabbit's digestive process generates some internal warming. Eating winter foods like woody bark and twigs may maximize this effect.

  • Running – Quick sprints or bursts of exercise raises muscle temperatures. Rabbits may take short runs to warm up.

  • Shivering and muscle tensing – Shivering produces heat. Stomping feet and tensing muscles have a similar effect.

  • Vasoconstriction – Constricting blood vessels in ears and extremities minimizes circulation to the skin so less body heat is lost.

  • Seeking warm earth – Burrowing into subsurface soil layers provides insulation, as a few feet below ground stays warmer than the air.

With well-placed shelters and some behavioral adjustments, rabbits manage to keep their warmth inside despite icy winter temperatures. Their adaptable winter survival strategies allow rabbits to thrive in all kinds of climates.

How Cold Can Rabbits Tolerate?

Rabbits are remarkably resilient in cold conditions. With adequate food and shelter, they can tolerate temperatures far below freezing:

  • Wild rabbits survive winter temperatures of -40° F in Alaska and Canada. Their insulation and snow burrows allow them to thrive in these subzero conditions.

  • The lowest recorded temperature a rabbit survived outdoors is -46°F in Canada.

  • Pet rabbits with thick winter coats can tolerate overnight temperatures down to 20°F when given proper housing to stay dry and get out of the wind. Healthy pet rabbits have handled single digit temperatures.

  • Once acclimated to winter weather, adult rabbits only begin to show signs of distress when temperatures drop below 5°F for extended periods.

  • Baby bunnies are more vulnerable to cold. Kits born early in spring need temperatures above 35°F for their first weeks of life.

  • Windchill has a major impact. Rabbits can handle lower temperatures if not exposed to high winds that steal body heat.

  • Wet conditions are especially dangerous. Rabbits can become hypothermic if soaked by rain, snow, or in contact with frozen ground that melts their fur.

While rabbits thrive in incredibly cold climates thanks to their specialized adaptations, extreme cold poses risks. Providing good shelters for winter can help pet rabbits safely get through cold snaps. Wild rabbits choose burrows and hiding spots that protect them from the harshest temperatures. With proper care and habitat, rabbits are built to handle even frigid winter weather.


In summary, wild rabbits are well equipped to handle winter's worst. They do not migrate or hibernate, but instead stick out the cold season. Thick fur, fat stores, burrowing habits, and physiological responses all allow rabbits to cope with low temperatures and snowfall. Rabbits spend more time tucked away in underground burrows and nests, only coming out when needed to seek food sources. Bark, twigs, dried grasses, and other minimally available greenery make up their winter diet. With adaptation and resourcefulness, rabbits are ultimate survivors able to make it through even freezing northern winters. Their resilience shows why they continue to thrive across diverse climates.

The article covers winter survival strategies and adaptations such as fur insulation, burrowing behaviors, food sources, resting in shelters, and physiological responses to cold. Key questions are addressed regarding where wild rabbits spend the winter, how they stay warm, what they eat, and the lowest temperatures rabbits can tolerate. The detailed information provides a thorough overview of how rabbits are uniquely equipped to handle the demands of the winter season.

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