Tracking down protein

23rd January 2013

We are going to turn our attention today away from the edible plants found in our countryside and instead look at clues to locating a very under utilised source of protein, the Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus.

With all the snow laying around in much of the country, it is an ideal time to locate rabbit tracks and you will get a good indication of just how numerous the animal is in many areas.

The best place to start looking is along hedgerows and woodland edge and chances are you will pick up the runs coming out into more open areas as the rabbits move out of their warrens to feed at dusk and dawn. The tracks of rabbits in snow is quite distinctive. When walking at normal pace you typically see the longer rear feet placed side by side and the two smaller front paw prints are one in front of the other.  If moving slowly, in soft snow the front paw prints can appear to merge into a single print especially once the snow starts to melt a bit.

Rabbit Tracks in the Snow

Hares leave a similar track but their prints are distinctly larger at least the width of a matchbox wide. Rabbits prints are about 2.5cm wide and 4-6cm long for the rear and about 3cm long on the front but in very soft or melting snow they can appear larger.

Another easy to spot sign, particularly in snow, is their urine. It stains quite dark, almost rust coloured and can be found either on the runs or together with the droppings at latrine sites.

Rabbit Urine on Track


Rabbit Latrine with Urine and Faeces

Rabbit droppings can be deposited randomly, but are often found in large quantities at regular latrines, often on molehills or in scrapes. The pellets are about 1cm across and spherical. They are very dark sometimes even greenish black when fresh but weather to a lighter brown with age. Hare pellets are larger, slightly flatter and paler in colour.

Although many of the warrens’s entrances will be well hidden under brambles etc. you may find one or two out in the open, in addition there will often be bolt holes….short cul-de-sac burrows that are just for escaping predators whilst feeding. The lack cobwebs across the entrances will indicate recent activity, even at this time of year, although in snow the tracks in and out will be a more reliable indicator.

Well Used Bolt Hole

You may even find where they have barked trees, in bad weather like this they can completely strip a tree from the ground up as far as they can reach. The teeth marks are often quite obvious, you can sometimes even make out the distinct grove present on the upper incisors and they tend to gnaw quite deeply.

Rabbit Bark Gnawing (photo by Martyn Tudhope)

You are also likely to detect scrapes easier in the snow as rabbits have dug down to get to underground roots and shoots.

Rabbit Scrape in the Snow (photo by Martyn Tudhope)

Less obvious sign can also be detected by the observant. Look for browsing activity; grass shoots with the ends neatly trimmed as if with scisscors, bramble and rose stem also neatly clipped by top and bottom incisors.

Single Blade of Cropped Grass


Slightly Out of Focus Browsed Bramble

If you have really got your eye in you may detect a strand or two of fine brown, grey and white fur caught on the bottom line of barbed wire fences or a bramble thorn.


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