Mountain hare – Lepus timidus
Mountain hares rest during the day in forms and scrapes which provide shelter and they sometimes make burrows in the earth or in snow, particularly when young. Their runs usually pass directly up slopes, rather than traversing slopes like those of sheep and deer. They are active at night, and although considered to be browsers of woody plants such as heather and other dwarf shrubs and trees, they prefer to eat grasses when they are available during the summer months. During periods of snow cover they gather on leeward hill slopes, in groups of 20+, to shelter or feed where shallow snow permits scraping to reveal underlying heather. The leverets are preyed upon by several predators including foxes, stoats, cats, buzzards and eagles; eagles are also major predators of adults.
Mountain hares are listed in Annex V of the EC Habitats Directive (1992), as a species ‘of community interest whose taking in the wild and exploitation may be subject to management measures.’ This conservation status means that certain methods of capture are prohibited or restricted. Mountain hares have historically been considered as small game with little commercial value either as a meat source or for shooting revenue. However, the shooting, which usually takes place in the winter months, is becoming increasingly commercialised due to shortage of other game.
In summer coat similar to brown hare but greyer. Body slightly smaller than brown hare with shorter ears, which do not have black tips, and an all-white tail. Winter coat mostly white or in transitional period. Larger than rabbits and longer legs. Tracks are key field sign to look for to determine the presence of the mountain hare. Head and body length 50cm. Adult weight 2.9kg (females) and 2.6kg (males).
Brown hare (Lepus europaeus)
Long ears, twice the length of the head, mountain hare’s ears are slightly shorter. Black on top of tail unlike all white tail of the mountain hare. Brown hare has amber eyes whilst mountain hare has brown eyes. Brown hare has brown fur with orange/brown sides all year round, whereas mountain hare has pale grey fur in summer which turns white in winter.
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Ears of rabbit are about the same length as head, shorter than the mountain hare, without the black tips that mountain hare has.Rabbit has grey/brown fur all year round whilst mountain hare has pale grey fur in summer or white fur in winter (still maintaining black ear tips).