8 Natural Predators That Eat Rabbits: In-Depth Look
Here comes that rabbit, hopping down the bunny trail – but hopping away like his life depends on it because he has a hungry predator behind him! Yep, bunny rabbits are cute, fuzzy, and delicious to many larger animals. But which animals eat rabbits regularly?
Rabbits are an essential food source for many meat-eating animals and have numerous natural predators. Some of the most popular animals that eat rabbits include snakes, foxes, coyotes, wolves, weasels, and birds. A strong rabbit hutch is the best way to keep pet bunnies safe.
Let’s learn more about these natural predators that eat rabbits, shall we?
1. Foxes Are Iconic Rabbit Predators
Many fairy tales about rabbits and foxes relate to how bunnies are always trying to outwit clever foxes. While we like to see the innocent little cottontail escape the jaws of the hungry fox, more often than not, the fox gets the rabbit.
Foxes are very efficient predators that end up taking many rabbits and rodents. The sly fox will consume nearly anything it can find, including insects, carrion, berries, fish, and lizards. But the fox’s diet consists primarily of rabbits and other small mammals.
Stealthy Foxes Sneak Up On Rabbits
Although rabbits can hear very well with their big ears and can see in nearly all directions simultaneously, foxes are very stealthy. They can move silently through the woods and sneak up on unsuspecting rabbits.
Sometimes the cottontail never senses the fox, but the times they do, the fox is usually already in position. It will sneak up very close to the rabbit, and when the bunny turns to run, the fox makes its move and pounces. “Looks like meat is back on the menu, boys!”
Foxes Have Amazing Hearing
Regardless of where they live or what species they are, if there are rabbits around, foxes will eat them. Even Arctic and Fennec foxes feed on rabbits. These animals have such superior hearing that they can hear rabbits even when they’re scurrying around in a sound-muffling blanket of snow.
When they hear the dinner bell under the snow, the fox will quietly approach and zero in with laser pointer accuracy. When the time comes, the fox will jump high in the air and dive into the snow, pinning the stunned rabbit in place.
There’s A Reason Foxes Are Portrayed As Clever
Foxes are brilliant animals. They’ve learned to search for food during dusk and dawn when they’re less likely to come across humans and larger animals. To learn more, check out our article explaining what time foxes come out at night!
If a fox chases a rabbit to its den, the fox will patiently wait nearby until it returns. That is, if the hole is too small for the fox to enter. If the fox can get into the den, it will happily follow.
When cornered, a rabbit can try to defend itself with its powerful back legs, sharp claws, and teeth, but they aren’t a match for the swift fox.
2. Raptors Such As Hawks And Eagles Eat Rabbits
A rabbit’s large eyes sit near the top of their heads, and this adaptation helps to give them nearly 360-degree vision. Additionally, they can see above them without tilting their neck and are far-sighted (meaning they can see better far away).
Even though a rabbit can see very well far away, the trophy for long sight goes to hawks and eagles. In fact, according to the Arizona Retina Project, these raptors can see up to eight times better than humans. And rabbits quickly become hashtags when the birds divebomb from the sky.
Raptors Use Their Excellent Eyesight To Spot And Catch Rabbits
The red-tailed hawk can see a rabbit from a mile away. When it’s hungry, the hawk will zero in with telescopic eyesight. When the bird gets close enough, it tucks its wings in and dives at nearly supersonic speeds toward the ground.
The rabbit may not have time to register the movement before the talons have deployed and snatched it. If the little fuzzy bunny does detect the feathered torpedo in time, it can run away. On the ground, rabbits can run exceptionally fast and change direction instantaneously.
Once a hawk goes into dive mode, it can’t turn as fast as the rabbit—if the bunny is very alert, it may be able to eke out an escape.
Bird Decoys Can Help Keep Rabbits Out Of Your Garden
Because rabbits have come to identify raptors as dangerous predators, they try to avoid the birds at all costs. And I can’t say that I blame them!
If you’re a gardener, you already know how destructive a hungry rabbit can be. Rabbits eat various plants, and since they can squeeze into tight spaces, it can seem impossible to stop them.
Luckily, you can use the bunny’s natural wariness of birds against them with bird decoys like this Fake Hawk Bird Scarecrow from YOFIT. Simply place the statue in your garden somewhere the rabbit can see it.
3. Rabbits Often Become Snake Food
Snakes are pure carnivores that consume other animals or eggs whenever they get hungry. They’ll eat nearly any animal they can fit in their vast, stretching jaws, including rabbits.
When rabbits and snakes live together, it’s not a harmonious community. They don’t make good neighbors! Rabbits become snake food all the time and are even sometimes fed by humans to pet snakes.
How Do Snakes Take Down Rabbits?
Oddly enough, rabbits can easily outrun even the fastest snake in the world.
A snake’s speed varies depending on its species, but some are pretty quick. Sidewinder snakes can jump across the sands at 18 mph/29 km/h, while the black mamba clocks in at 12 mph/19 km/h.
On the other hand, rabbits can run an average of 30 mph/48 km/h. The fastest rabbit, the long-legged hare, can sprint as fast as 45 mph/72 km/h.
So how do snakes catch the quick-moving rabbit? (Hint: it’s not because the hare stopped to take a nap!)
Snakes Ambush Fast Moving Meals
Snakes are masters of camouflage and ambush. According to Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, diamondback rattlesnakes will wait near logs or in the roots of fallen trees and strike out at animals that try to pass. Rattlesnakes can strike up to two-thirds of their body length, and a 6-foot snake can strike up to 4 feet away.
When a venomous snake strikes a rabbit, it injects a hefty dose of venom and then lets it go. The snake allows the chemical concoction to work; then, it sniffs out the meal (with its tongue) once it’s perished.
Non-venomous snakes use constriction. They strike out quickly too, but then loop their robust and muscular body around the rabbit and slowly squeeze the life out of it. Once the rabbit is incapacitated, the snake swallows the meal whole, starting with the head first.
Some Snakes Intrude In The Rabbits Burrow
Baby rabbits have almost no defenses against predators. Snakes know this and will eagerly slide into a rabbit hole to seek out the tender, helpless babies. Unfortunately, the adult rabbits can’t do much against the intruders.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t try!
A mother may be able to get a few of her babies out of another hole if a snake enters the home. Still, once the snake sniffs out of the nursery, it will quickly swallow any remaining kittens.
If you’re fond of your rabbit neighbors, you can help keep them safe with these Pet Safe Outdoor Snake Repellent Balls. Just place them near the den to keep snakes out of the area.
4. Coyotes Catch And Eat Rabbits
Coyotes are medium-sized canine predators and one of the rabbit’s biggest natural threats. They’ll eat nearly anything but prefer meat sources. Some of their favorite foods (in addition to rabbits, of course) are squirrels and mice.
If you’re too young to have experienced the iconic back-and-forth between Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius), you should check it out. Of course, in real life, coyotes are much more successful.
How Do Coyotes Catch Rabbits?
Like foxes, coyotes use their incredible sense of smell to track rabbits down before using stealth to sneak up on them.
Predators use their senses to detect motion. That’s why you’ll usually see a cat or dog chase something after it takes off running. To combat this, when a rabbit senses danger, its first instinct is to remain completely motionless.
Unfortunately, they can’t stay still forever. Coyotes use this to their advantage by sneaking in close, waiting patiently, and taking chase once the rabbit finally makes a run for it.
Coyotes can run as fast—and sometimes faster than a rabbit— and can even jump fences, so the coyote will often catch the fleet-footed bunny.
5. Wolves Snack On Rabbits Between Bigger Meals
Although wolves are closely related to coyotes, they have some differences. Like most relatives, right? For example, wolves are larger than coyotes and prefer to hunt in packs.
Wolves often feed on deer, elk, moose, and bison. However, they’ll go after a tasty rabbit when food is scarce.
It takes a significant, coordinated effort to take down large animals such as moose or bison. Chasing and taking down these massive beasts also requires a lot of energy, usually from the entire pack.
These attempts are not always successful, but a big wolf pack needs to eat to stay healthy and raise little wolf cubs. When large meals are not handy, wolves can turn to rabbits and smaller mammals to fill the gap.
Wolf Packs Team Up On Rabbits
Wolves can take on a rabbit on their own, but the agile bunny can often escape. If the rabbit isn’t too far from its den, it may be able to outrun or, better yet, outmaneuver the wolf.
When multiple wolves team up on the rabbit, its chances of escape diminish. While a single rabbit is barely a full meal for one wolf, they can capture a few rabbits in between catching larger animals.
Because they zip and turn, rabbits get worn out quickly. In addition to being fast, wolves also have a lot of endurance and can run very long distances. When wolves team up, the rabbit doesn’t stand a chance.
6. Cats Catch And Eat Rabbits
This segment includes domesticated and wild cats like bobcats, lynxes, and ocelots. Although a domestic cat may occasionally catch a rabbit, they mainly do so out of instinct, not a necessity. They know their human will deliver food soon!
On the other hand, wild cats need to catch their food to survive, and small mammals (like rabbits) are at the top of the menu! Want to know whart menu bobcats are on? Check out this article listing the top ten animals that eat bobcats!
Rabbits Are Fast But Cats Are Stealthy
Bobcats, lynx, and other wildcats employ the same methods you’ve probably seen your cat use. They use slow, stealthy movements to sneak close to the rabbit, and when they’re close enough, they pounce on it.
If the wildcat has to chase the rabbit, it will if they’re close enough to catch it in a few quick steps. These cats have long, strong legs that help them run fast and change direction quickly when needed.
Bobcats, in particular, are strong predators. They’re excellent hunters of smaller prey and can even take down a full-grown deer. Like house cats, wildcats have very sharp teeth and retractable claws that hang tight to anything they catch.
Once the rabbit is in the cat’s grasp, it has no escape.
7. Rabbits Cannot Defend Themselves From An Owls Aerial Attack
Owls are raptors because they have hooked talons, sharp beaks, keen eyesight, and a carnivorous diet. That said, I didn’t group them with hawks and eagles because they have different hunting abilities.
For example, remember how raptors ambush their prey by dive-bombing them from above? Well, owls don’t do that. Instead, the birds hunt by stealth at night. Bigger owls, like barn owls, great horned owls, and barred owls, love a good rabbit dinner because they’re easy to catch and are big enough to fill their bellies.
In addition to raptor decoys, owl scarecrows like this Solar Owl Decoy With Rotating Head can be used to keep rabbits out of your garden.
How Do Owls Capture Rabbits?
Owls have excellent night vision and can remain motionless for a long time. They track their prey by hanging out in the trees, where they have a great view below them. Most owls blend into their surroundings, and in the tall branches of the tree, they’re virtually invisible.
When owls catch sight of a potential meal, they bide their time and swoop down like a ninja in the night. Mice, rats, rabbits (and whatever else is on the owl’s menu) only know what’s about to transpire after they’re hoisted into the dark by sharp talons.
Secrets To An Owls Silent Flight
Owls are the stealth bombers of the avian world. If you’ve ever been close enough to a large bird when it takes off, you can hear the frantic flapping of its wings. You may even hear the woosh of air when they fly near.
But you won’t hear an owl’s flight. A few times, I’ve been close enough to see a large owl zip in front of my face. It’s an unreal sensation because you hear nothing and quickly wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you.
The reason they can fly so silently is because of their feathers. Owls have specialized feathers that reduce turbulence, smooth out the air around them, and effectively muffle air noise.
Additionally, owls have enormous wings. This adaptation helps them fly slowly without losing lift when needed. These fantastic features make owls very successful predators of rabbits.
8. Members Of The Weasel Family Feast On Rabbits
Mustelids include weasels, badgers, ferrets, wolverines, otters, stoles, and more. With few exceptions, mustelids will eagerly feast on rabbits.
Even small weasels, stoats, and minks will feed on rabbits. Large hares and jackrabbits are usually larger than most weasels, but that doesn’t stop them from making a memory of the rabbits.
Badgers, wolverines, and fishers will chase and quickly overpower rabbits as well. Badgers can dig exceptionally well, allowing them to go into a rabbit’s burrow (always uninvited). Weasels and smaller members cannot dig as well and have to catch rabbits a different way.
How Does The Wiley Weasel Catch A Rabbit?
Most mustelids have big attitudes and don’t back down from much. Even a small stoat will tackle rabbits that are four or five times larger than themselves. These predators are vicious and don’t care as long as they get a meal.
The sleek weasel will sneak close to a bunny and chase it down before catching and subduing it. One rabbit will feed a weasel for several days.
Sometimes, rabbits can get to their burrow and find safety, but this isn’t the case with a weasel. Because the animals are small, long, and slender, they can slide into even the smallest burrows.
When weasels find a rabbit warren, they’ll go inside and capture an easy meal. Then to add insult to injury, the weasel takes over and makes the former rabbit burrow its own home. Pretty rude if you ask me!
How Do Rabbits Protect Themselves From Predators?
Most animals that live on the bottom of the food chain have evolved clever ways to defend themselves against predators. For example, when threatened, cane toads secrete a foul-tasting milky substance, skunks spray stinky chemicals to keep predators away, and turtles simply retreat into a hard shell.
Possums have an even weirder defense mechanism. They play, well, “possum” and even smell like a post-mortem autopsy when threatened.
Unfortunately, rabbits don’t have any clever defenses, so they rely on speed, heightened senses, and camouflage to keep themselves off the dinner table.
According to the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, rabbits have powerful legs that allow them to sprint and make quick, sharp turns. Additionally, their eyes are positioned high on their head, allowing them to see threats more efficiently.
Moreover, the animals breed rapidly. This adaptation helps them keep their numbers sustainable, allowing rabbits to evolve to environmental changes faster than most species.
Let’s Wrap It Up!
Because rabbits are plentiful and don’t have as many defenses as other small mammals, many animals won’t pass up a free rabbit dinner.
That said, the most common rabbit predators are:
- Raptors (such as hawks and eagles)
There you have it. We hope you found this exciting and enjoyed learning about predators that eat rabbits. If you have a pet bunny, you now understand why they can be so nervous—everything wants to eat them!
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Penteriani, V., Del Mar Delgado, M., Bartolommei, P., Maggio, C., Alonso‐Alvarez, C., & J. Holloway, G. (2008). Owls and rabbits: predation against substandard individuals of an easy prey. Journal of Avian Biology, 39(2), 215-221.
Pollack, E. M. (1951). Food habits of the bobcat in the New England states. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 15(2), 209-213.
Palomares, F., Gaona, P., Ferreras, P., & Delibes, M. (1995). Positive effects on game species of top predators by controlling smaller predator populations: an example with lynx, mongooses, and rabbits. Conservation Biology, 9(2), 295-305.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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