Rabbits can be delightful to watch because of their twitching noises and energetic hops. But you’ll likely see them less and less during the winter months as the weather—and their habits—change.
Rabbits spend the winter in tree trunks, thick bushes, burrows, sheds, under decks and porches, inside pet shelters like doghouses and chicken coops, in brush piles, and under walls or fences. Rabbits do not hibernate or migrate. You should expect to see fewer rabbits in wintertime temperatures.
Because winter is so hard on rabbits, it will often seem as though they’ve disappeared during colder months. Read on to learn where they go!
What Rabbits Do During The Winter
There are 15 species of rabbits in North America with a wide distribution range. Most rabbits live in approximately the same area their whole lives—somewhere between 2-9 acres. This includes during winter.
In colder months, rabbits shift their priorities from breeding to surviving and eating. They are also prone to be prey by humans and predators during this time, so often their focus is on hiding.
Basically, a rabbit’s life changes dramatically once the temperatures drop. Let’s take a look at where rabbits go, how they survive, and when you can expect them to return.
Rabbits Don’t Hibernate
Unlike many of their mammalian friends, rabbits do not hibernate. Hibernation is when an animal enters a low-activity state, sometimes also known as torpor or dormancy. During this time, some animals sleep a lot, sometimes for months in some cases.
Hibernation is triggered by low temperatures, like those in winter. So why don’t rabbits hibernate?
Research by the National Library of Medicine shows that rabbits have fast metabolisms and need to eat a lot.
Simply put, this means rabbits eat too much and too frequently to be able to be in a rest state for an extended period of time.
Unlike other mammals that do hibernate, rabbits can’t load up on food and then nap it off. That’s why they spend much of their time in winter looking for food.
Rabbits have to graze consistently in order to get enough fiber. In contrast to rodents, such as squirrels and rats, rabbits don’t save or store food—they eat it all. And during winter, rabbits aren’t picky about what they eat.
How Rabbits Survive in the Winter
Rabbits survive the winter in a similar way to the rest of the year: they eat a lot. Because of their fast metabolism, need for a lot of fiber, and lack of hibernation, they have to eat constantly to stay alive.
Rabbits also stop shedding in the winter, so their fur becomes thicker and warmer. They are naturally warmer than other animals, with an average body temperature of 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit. That, combined with their ability to burrow into small spaces, helps them survive.
Some rabbits even turn white in the winter, which protects them from predators. On the other hand, many species of rabbit focus on hiding during cold months.
That said, there are many rabbits that don’t survive the winter. Rabbits are easier prey in the winter, both for humans and predators, because there aren’t many lush spaces for them to hide.
The rabbits that do survive do so by eating a lot and hiding effectively. Let’s take a look at what they eat during the winter months.
Rabbits Aren’t Picky About Their Wintertime Meals
Because of rabbits’ high metabolisms, they eat frequently. They are herbivores, meaning they eat vegetation. During spring and summer, you can usually find them grazing on your lawn, or maybe even nibbling away at your garden.
During the winter, rabbits turn to eating tree bark and twigs, as well as any greens they can find. If you are growing any winter crops, that can put your garden in danger.
Rabbits also have a very well-balanced digestive system. Because they eat a lot of fiber they, um, produce a lot of waste. In the winter, they will eat some of their waste to absorb any possible nutrients they can get. It’s gross, but it helps them stay alive!
Rabbits Hide In Several Places
Rabbits have both terrestrial and avian predators. They are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn. This makes them more vulnerable, as they have both nocturnal (active at night) and diurnal (active during the day) predators who are awake at dusk and dawn.
Depending on where you live, some of the most common predators of rabbits include:
- Large cats, like bobcats and mountain lions.
- Birds of prey, like hawks and owls.
- Badgers, foxes, and raccoons.
- Domesticated animals, namely cats and dogs.
With all of these critters looking to chow down on them, rabbits have to be very sneaky.
Furthermore, because winter means that they have to scavenge harder for food while also dodging predators and cold, rabbits will look for a mix of safety and ease.
Sometimes that means they end up in places you don’t want them. So without any further delay, let’s look at 9 places where rabbits are likely to hide.
Cartoon rabbits often live happily in overturned tree trunks. And the truth isn’t very far from that. Except…they don’t wait for the tree to die before they move in.
Trees are very appealing to rabbits during winter. Because they are looking for shelter, rabbits are often drawn to evergreen trees in particular. Not only does their foliage provide shelter from many predators, but they’re also a source of food.
Rabbits eat the bark off of tree trunks they call home. They can easily use their strong teeth to peel off the bark and eat it.
Rabbits most commonly target young trees with softer bark. They often chew around the entirety of a young tree, leaving it girdled – that means, the loss of bark goes all the way around the tree trunk.
When a tree’s bark is removed, that makes it prone to rot. A single rabbit can damage several young trees, which can undo a lot of hard work if you planted them intentionally.
Because of the plentiful food source, rabbits will set up near tree trunks so they don’t have to move far between eating and resting.
If you have noticed girdling around the bark of your trees, try using this Resizable PVC Tree Trunk Protector. It’s designed to protect young trees from hungry rabbits.
Rabbits like a lot of cover, and bushes provide that. They are especially fond of evergreen bushes, provided they don’t smell too strongly. Rabbits, like many animals, have a keen sense of smell.
In addition to cover, bushes also provide rabbits with—you guessed it—food. Rabbits will eat twigs and wood if necessary, as indicated by their love of bark.
But they will also eat any bushes on your property that aren’t overly pungent to them. This could include prized rosebushes or other decorative shrubberies.
Because they have a high-fiber, mostly green diet, they will jump on the opportunity to eat any foliage they can find. If you notice that a bush is suddenly looking a little thinner, you may have a rabbit to blame.
Rabbits are able to burrow with relative ease in most cases. According to research by the NLM, whether or not a rabbit burrows depends on its species.
Some rabbits are able to dig out complex nests known as warrens, while others, like cottontails, prefer to use previously made burrows.
Most rabbits will burrow a den deep enough for them, and any offspring, to comfortably rest. Mother rabbits will collect soft nesting material for their burrows. You can identify a rabbit nest by the shallowness of the burrow and any soft materials in it, like grasses.
They are also able to dig under fences if the fences don’t extend into the ground. That’s something to keep in mind if you are looking to fence off areas from rabbits.
However, when the ground is frozen, it’s harder for them to dig. If a rabbit finds its burrow destroyed or compromised by predators, it may not be able to dig a new burrow.
That’s when rabbits usually turn to pre-made homes, like…
Sheds Or Other Low Traffic Buildings
Rabbits are very afraid of humans, but will use human-made structures in desperate times. They don’t typically enter sheds or other buildings, though. Instead, they usually burrow underneath them.
Because the ground is less likely to be frozen under buildings, rabbits are able to dig more effectively. They will often choose to dig under parts of buildings closer to bushes or trees so they have easier access to food.
Rabbits will also choose buildings that don’t see many visits from humans or intimidating pets such as dogs. Any low-use sheds, coops, or greenhouses could be appealing to rabbits.
Under Your Deck Or Porch
Raised porches and decks can give your house curb appeal—and rabbit appeal! The space under your deck or porch can be much warmer than the surrounding area, and rabbits will gladly seek that out.
In addition, the space under decks is often enclosed and provides a sense of safety to rabbits. It’s a great alternative to being in the brush, where they can easily be found by predators.
Rabbits will gain access under your deck by digging small holes – usually only a few inches in diameter – or through damaged areas. Once under your deck, they may burrow to make nests.
Because there isn’t much food for them in the winter, rabbits may turn to nibbling on your decks as well. They are especially drawn to untreated wood. In addition to chewing on decks, they may sample any wooden furniture you have nearby.
If you’re concerned about a family of rabbits setting up shop under your porch or deck, consider using Galvanized Chicken Wire—you can wrap it around any spaces you fear may be compromised.
In addition, be sure to repair any deck or porch damage when you notice it. Rabbits have a harder time entering undamaged spaces.
You might have set up a shelter for your pets, such as a doghouse, coop, dog run, or outdoor kennel. If they aren’t used very often in winter months, rabbits might move in.
Rabbits will not seek shelter in a pet home that smells heavily of a predator. A well-used doghouse will smell very frightening to them, and they won’t risk the chance of Fido returning.
But if you keep your pets indoors in the winter, or if pet homes have fallen out of use, rabbits might move in. You’ll be able to identify these invaders by chew marks on wood or their distinctive round droppings.
If you have any unused pet shelters, be sure to block them off by covering entrances with wire or plywood. Alternatively, you could use Nature’s Mace Rabbit Repellent. Simply sprinkle it around structures you would like to protect from rabbits.
You might prune trees during late autumn or early winter, depending on your goals. Any brush you leave behind, though, could become a home for rabbits
Remember that rabbits love branches and bark, and brush piles provide that in abundance. Brush piles also create protection from the cold, and you’ll find that the ground is often softer underneath them, which means rabbits are able to nest under them as well.
Brush that is piled against a structure is especially appealing to rabbits. It creates a sense of enclosure and safety, and the longer it’s left unattended the more likely it is that rabbits will move in.
There are a few ways to tell if a rabbit has moved into your brush pile: of course, there are the tell-tale gnaw marks on the brush as well as droppings. But if the brush pile seems disrupted or if you hear clattering or movement, you might have rabbit residents.
Walls Or Fences
Walls and fences can provide alluring shelter for desperate rabbits. Because the ground under fences and walls can be a little softer than the surrounding area, rabbits may burrow underneath.
They might also seek shelter under anything left leaning against walls, such as wheelbarrows or scrap wood. Bushes or trees near walls and fences are also enticing to rabbits.
Rabbits’ burrowing and chewing habits can cause severe damage to fences, undoing hours of hard work. You can protect your property by installing Adavin Small Barrier Fences.
Most species of rabbits can’t burrow very deeply, so bury the bottom of the fence about a foot underground to prevent them from entering your yard.
Are you dealing with lots of holes, it is well worth your time to learn how to stop rabbits from digging holes on your property.
Your Home (But Usually On Accident)
Sometimes, a cold bunny might wander into your garage or an open door. This is not usually where they want to be, though. Rabbits are very afraid of humans and don’t want to live in your house.
But on very cold nights, a rabbit might wander in through a pet door or other easy and wide-open entry point. Be sure to close off unused entry points, lock or block pet doors, and close your garage door.
After all, if a rabbit makes its way into your house, it’s likely to give both of you the fright of your lives. Simple preventative measures can save you from such a scare.
When Do Rabbits Become Active Again?
Once the weather warms up, rabbits will become more common. They’ll begin to move away from human structures and back into brush, particularly in verdant and dense areas.
Keep in mind that rabbits live on the same few acres for their entire lives, so they won’t entirely move away from your property on their own.
Starting in mid-spring, you also may notice more bunnies. Rabbits mate primarily between March and August, and with a gestation period of only about a month, their numbers increase quickly.
Rabbits have an average of four bunnies per litter and produce three to five litters a year. This means your yard may be a haven for rabbits once winter ends.
While they’re cute and fun to watch, rabbits can damage property and plants. Here are some ways to tell if there are rabbits romping around…
How To Tell If There Are Rabbits In Your Yard
There are a few signs that you have rabbits in your yard. The most obvious is you see them hopping around your lawn at dawn or dusk. But here are a few other signs:
- Clean-cut damage to your garden. Unlike many other pests, rabbits leave clean lines when they chew. If you find your plants are missing leaves entirely, rabbits could be to blame.
- Small, soft nests. As previously mentioned, most rabbits make shallow burrows with soft nesting materials inside.
- Small, round droppings near food sources. Rabbits leave distinctive compact droppings because of their high-fiber diet. This is one of the easiest ways to determine if you have rabbits on your property.
If you have rabbits in your yard, you may be wondering what you can do. There are a few steps you can use to protect your yard during all seasons.
Cover Any Plants
Rabbits chew and graze year-round, so no matter the season you need to protect your plants. This goes double for plants that are young and low to the ground.
Raised garden beds may be helpful for protecting your fruits and veggies. Alternatively, you could cover small plants with Gardener’s Supply Company Cloche Plant Protector & Cover. These could be especially helpful for seedlings that you are transplanting.
Repel With Natural Scents
Rabbits have a very powerful sense of smell, and react strongly to smells they don’t like. You can use these smells around your garden and other places rabbits might frequent.
Rabbits flee from the smell of coyotes and other predators. Because rabbits are coyote prey, they’ll avoid them at first whiff. You can spray fox scent, like American Heritage Fox Urine, around plants or trees you want to protect. Just keep in mind that this may attract other nearby foxes.
Rabbits will also avoid dried blood, such as that found in blood meal. Because rabbits are herbivores, they don’t like smells that carnivores are drawn to. You could try sprinkling Espoma Organic Blood Meal around your garden to protect it. (As an added benefit, it also acts as a fertilizer. Just make sure it suits your plants before using it.)
Because rabbits are repelled by predators, you could also use your dog to help rabbit-proof your garden. Walk your dog around your property regularly, and in particular around places where you have seen rabbits. Your dog will leave scent markers that should warn off rabbits.
Pump Up The Noise
Rabbits’ long, adorable ears mean they have a good sense of hearing. A lot of loud sounds and noises scare rabbits, including thunder, fireworks, and even people.
You can count on the time of day rabbits are active (dawn and dusk) so consider using loud noises at those times to keep them away from your property. This could include banging pots and pans at rabbits you see, or even playing music in your garden or other rabbit-infested areas at those times.
Of course, neighbors might have something to say if you turn up the volume at dawn. There is one more preventative measure you could take…
Fence Off Important Areas
This is the most reasonable preventative measure you can take: simply fencing off places you would like to keep rabbits out of.
Of course, rabbits are good hoppers and reasonable diggers. Any fence you place should go far enough into the ground that they can’t burrow underneath it.
In addition, it should be at least two feet tall so they can’t hop over it. Use galvanized fencing or equivalent, since rabbits also like to chew.
That’s All, Folks!
Rabbits aren’t as menacing as some other pests, but they can still take a toll on your garden, lawn, and trees. And because they don’t hibernate, they’re still a nuisance during the winter.
In addition, rabbits aren’t picky eaters. They can easily destroy saplings, bushes, and other plants.
Luckily, their strong sense of smell and fear of danger makes it easy to repel them. Scents of carnivores and predators can send them running.
That said, if you still find yourself bothered by rabbits after trying these tips, you could always reach out to a wildlife expert. They can provide you with the necessary expertise to protect your property from rabbits.
Hopefully these tips help keep your lawn beautiful and rabbit-free. Good luck!
Kilpatrick, H.J. and Goodie, T. J. (2019) Spatial use and survival of sympatric populations of New England and eastern cottontails in Connecticut. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, 11(1): 3-10.
Lidfors, L. and Dahlborn, K. (2021). Behavioral biology of rabbits. In K. Coleman & S.J. Schapiro Behavioral Biology of Laboratory Animals. CRC Press.
Williams, C. S. and Short, R. M. 2014 Evaluation of eight repellents in deterring eastern cottontail herbivory in Connecticut. Human-Wildlife Interactions, 8(1):113-122.