Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)

snowshoe hare

Snowshoe hare./D.G.E. Robertson

General: This medium-sized forest-dwelling rabbit gets its name from large hind feet that bear it up on top of snow. Another common name is “varying hare,” as snowshoe hares change color from gray-brown in summer to white in winter. Snowshoe hares eat mainly grasses and green plants in summer, and twigs and buds of hardwood and softwood trees and shrubs in winter. Snowshoe hares occur in the Upper Midwest and, in the East, throughout New England and New York State and south in the Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee. They live in a variety of habitats, including both moist lowlands and high-elevation boreal forests. Snowshoe hares like thick, brushy areas near openings with herbaceous plants and dense young conifers that offer shelter from winter’s cold and snow. Throughout their range, hares depend on areas of regrowing forest; in the southern highlands, they also inhabit laurel and rhododendron thickets. Since they are prey for many animals – Canada lynx, bobcats, coyotes, fishers, hawks, and owls – they do best in thick young forest habitats where they can find ample hiding places.

Status: Snowshoe hares are common throughout most of their range, but some states, including several that are on the fringe of the species’ range, classify them as Species of Greatest Conservation Need: Vermont, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the northern parts of their range, snowshoe hare populations cycle dramatically, from an abundance of rabbits to very few rabbits; southern populations are more stable. Snowshoe hares are an important food source for many predators, including one, the Canada lynx, whose population has steadily declined in recent decades. Making young forest to encourage snowshoe hares can help resident lynx as well.

How to Help Snowshoe Hares: Timber management practices that create dense, thick regrowing trees and shrubs – including clearcuts and group-selection timber harvests – will lead to young forest and boost local hare numbers. It’s good to encourage the growth of low, thick, young conifers, such as spruce and fir, for hares to use as escape and winter cover. Protective cover is often the most important feature of snowshoe hare habitat.

Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within the snowshoe hare’s range to increase your chances of hearing or seeing this rabbit, as well as other wildlife that need young forest.