Boxing hares: An unmissable spring spectacle

Andy Rouse/2020VISION

Usually shy and retiring, lithe and leggy brown hares are getting ready to put on an extra special show just in time for spring. Take a ringside seat and get ready for some fisticuffs!

Why do hares box?

It is all to do with mating. There can be some confusion about whether boxing hares are male or female, and the answer is both: an amorous male (or buck) and a fed-up female (or doe).

A surge of testosterone pushes bucks to turn up their engines throughout March and April. They chase their chosen doe across fields at full-pelt in an effort to mate with her. Understandably, this can all get a bit tiresome for the poor does, which is when they initiate the boxing match, whipping around and using flailing feet to fend off any buck pushing his luck. It’s not unusual to see fur flying!

This fast and furious display is thought to have sparked the phrase, ‘Mad as a March hare’.

At full pelt, brown hares can reach speeds of up to 40mph

Boxing hares silhouetted on the horizon

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Where to see hares boxing

If you want to see this unmissable spectacle for yourself, pay a visit to our Brockholes nature reserve between March and April.

Brown hares are one of the star species at Brockholes and have even featured on Countryfile. The best time to try and see them boxing is early in the morning when Brockholes is quiet, so set your alarm and head to the reserve as the sun comes up.

Other places to see boxing hares are open grassy or arable fields, particularly near woodland fringes or decent hedgerows where the hares can find shelter. Outside the boxing season you are best taking your binoculars to carefully scan the area, as hares spend much of their time hunkered down in a depression they have dug in the ground called a ‘form’.

If you fancy a day-trip, why not try to spot the brown hare’s close cousin, the mountain hare, at RSPB Dove Stone on the edge of the Peak District?

A doe can conceive her next litter whilst still pregnant with the first!

A brown hare leveret hunkered down and chewing on grass

Andy Rouse/2020VISION

When do hares give birth?

Hares have their babies 42 days after conception. The young are called ‘leverets’ and are born with their eyes open and a full coat of fur. They are incredibly secretive, hiding away in the form their mother has dug or sheltering deep in vegetation. The doe visits them briefly to avoid alerting predators, feeding them for a few minutes at a time before heading off to forage again.

Did you know that female hares can be pregnant twice, simultaneously? A doe can conceive her next litter whilst still pregnant with the first!

How to watch hares ethically

If you want to watch March hares putting on their spring show, remember to be respectful and keep your distance so they can go about their business undisturbed. Wear neutral-coloured clothes, stay close to the ground and position yourself downwind from the hares, so your scent doesn’t spook them.

By using these tips, you will have a much better chance of spotting brown hares in our region all year-round.

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