The Irish Mountain Hare has inhabited this island for many thousands of years. The bones of an animal found in Co Waterford are over 28,000 years old. The Irish mountain hare is recognised as a unique subspecies. It does not turn white in winter like other European populations, and in Ireland it inhabits lowland habitats. The mountain hare has long ears, slightly shorter than the length of its head, and long hind feet. Its coat is usually reddish-brown in summer but changes to grey-brown in the winter months. The top of the tail is usually pale to white. The Irish hare is found in every county but numbers have decreased in recent years. It lives in open areas on uplands, farmland and grassland. It is usually nocturnal but is sometimes active during daylight in spring and summer.
Hares rest above ground in shallow depressions called ‘forms’, and in some areas will dig shallow burrows. They are usually solitary animals, but sometimes gather in large numbers to feed. Irish hares eat many different plants, including heather, herbs, gorse, plantain, dandelions and grasses. Like rabbits, hares ingest some of their droppings, passing food through their stomachs twice (known as ‘refection’) so they obtain the most nutrients from their food. Breeding usually occurs between January and September. There are often squabbles at this time and males kick and box and chase each other, hence the phrase ‘as mad as a March hare’. Breeding females usually have two or three litters each year, and there are one to four leverets in each litter. Leverets are born fully furred and have their eyes open, and are weaned at three weeks. Only about one-fifth of young hares survive their first year.
Source: National Parks and Wildlife Service
Photo: Male Irish mountain hare with radiocollar, stretching and yawning, on North Bull Island, Co Dublin, Alan Wolfe Photography