Wild rabbits eat a lot of different things, depending on where they are and the season. What they eat in summer differs from what they eat in winter. Rabbits are foragers. They spend around 80% of their active hours searching and grazing for food.
Naturally, wild rabbits are herbivores. They feed on plants, grass, leaves, weeds, and wildflowers. Meat, dairy, or other animal products are not a diet option for them.
In this article, we will look at what wild rabbits eat, how their diet is different from domestic rabbits, and what to feed a wild rabbit if you spot one in your yard.
What do wild rabbits eat compared to domestic rabbits?
Wild rabbits can be found in grasslands, woodlands, gardens, and parks. Some live above the ground, while others live in underground warrens. Domestic rabbits can live indoors, in a cage, or in an outdoor hutch.
As stated above, all rabbits are herbivores. However, there are differences in the diets of domestic and wild rabbits. Domestic rabbits have specific dietary requirements.
Most owners feed them hay or grass and water. To ensure a balanced diet, owners also provide green vegetables such as cucumbers, fruits such as papaya, and high-quality pellets.
On the other hand, their wild counterparts feed on grass, clover, shrubs, and other green plants found on farms or gardens.
What do wild rabbits eat?
Wild rabbits thrive on a plant-based diet alone. They eat plenty of grass that acts as roughage, making it a large part of their overall diet. The grass is suitable for their digestive systems.
Here is an example of what their diet looks like.
- Grasses: orchard, timothy, oat, meadow, wheatgrass, bluegrass, ryegrass, bentgrass, fescue, etc. They can feed on lawn grass, but it has limited nutrition.
- Weeds: buttercups, stinging nettles, clover, dandelions, borage, calendula, coltsfoot, shepherds purse, etc.
- Barks and twigs: birch, poplar, spruce, apple tree sticks, maple, etc.
- Flowers: daisies, pansies, marigolds, petunias, gazania, peonies, jasmine, etc.
- Vegetables: broccoli, peas, beets, etc.
- Herbs: rosemary, oregano, parsley, mint, dill, etc.
What wild rabbits eat depends on what is available and what time of the year it is. Over the course of the year, different foods are available, while others are unavailable.
What do wild rabbits eat in winter?
You might wonder what rabbits eat in winter when it’s cold and frosty. What do they eat when there is barely any grass available because of the snow on the ground?
Despite the apparent lack of grass and green vegetation, rabbits are good at finding food. They feed on twigs, branches, young trees, and shrub buds. These foods provide them with nutrients to keep them healthy. Additionally, these foods are tough. They can help trim their teeth to keep them in good condition.
The second thing they eat is cecotropes, which are clusters of partially digested food. Ingestion of cecotropes is normal and healthy. They are extremely nutritious – provide Vitamin K, B vitamins, protein, and beneficial bacteria. Actually, they get more nutrition from cecotropes than from their first digestion of food.
Do wild rabbits drink water?
All animals need water to survive. Rabbits are no exception. But how do they drink water since they don’t have bowls of water left outside for them?
For them to stay hydrated, they have to get creative. They get water from two main sources. First, it is from ground sources such as rivers, streams, ponds, or lakes found near their habitat. The second is from fresh green plants. Fresh plants have a higher water content level than dry plants and barks. When they eat fresh plants, they don’t need to look for water.
Are wild rabbits picky eaters?
Even though wild rabbits can feed on various plants, they are picky eaters. They prefer eating fresh green plants over dried ones. They can even climb trees to access the fresh green leaves.
Experts speculate this is because of their inability to store large quantities of food in their small stomachs. Because they are prey animals, wild rabbits have a low food storage capacity, making it easier for them to run away from predators. Therefore, they need to pick the most nutrient-dense foods.
When do wild rabbits eat?
Wild rabbits eat at dusk and dawn. That’s the time when they are most active. So, they leave their burrows to graze and eat until they’re full. As prey animals, predators are less active during sunrise and sunset. And even if they were, the light is dim, making it hard for them to spot wild rabbits. In addition, they mainly graze around the same area each day. They know where their favorite foods are located.
Should you feed a wild rabbit?
Yes, you can feed a wild rabbit if you spot it in your backyard. However, it’s not generally recommended because if you keep feeding them, they might become dependent on your food and lose their natural instincts.
The truth is that they are good at finding their food.
But this is a personal choice. If you want to feed them, it’s important to know what’s safe and what’s toxic.
Set up an area in your backyard
Create a safe and comfortable spot to place the food. Wild rabbits like bushes, evergreens, weedy areas, and tall grass. You can plant them along the edge of your garden or yard to give them a sense of overall safety. Also, you can leave a section of your lawn uncut. If you can, add brush piles for them to hide from predators.
Provide hay and grass
You can spread out hay and grass over the section you choose. Ideally, grass is the main food source for wild rabbits. The uncut lawn can be a good option for them, but ensure you haven’t sprayed pesticides as they may harm the rabbits.
Hay is a type of grass that has been grown specifically for animals and dried. Therefore, hay can still be given as a type of grass. You can provide oat and timothy hay to wild rabbits. Alfalfa hay is also an option but has high protein, calcium, and sugar levels.
Another good option for feeding wild rabbits is pellets from a pet store. Pellets provide essential nutrients to rabbits. They should be given in small quantities since they are extremely dense in nutrients and eating a lot of them can make wild rabbits sick.
You can spread them across the lawn to encourage foraging instincts or place them in a bowl.
Give fresh vegetables
This is probably the easiest way to feed wild rabbits since you probably have some veggies in your house. Some of the safest veggies you can give them include:
- Collard greens
- Herbs (oregano, rosemary, mint, etc.)
- Dandelion leaves
- Broccoli (the steam and leaves)
- Carrot tops
- Celery leaves
- Swiss chard
- Peapods (without the peas)
- Bell peppers
Carrots are a popular food for rabbits. But they are probably not the best vegetables due to their high sugar level. If you have to give them carrots, give them in small amounts.
Since wild rabbits are not used to eating green vegetables, begin slowly and with a small amount to prevent diarrhea. Also, there are certain veggies you want to avoid giving, including potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, etc. They can cause bloating and gas.
The common types of fruits for wild rabbits are berries. They eat small amounts of berries in their natural environment. They can feed on their leaves and twigs as well.
You can consider feeding all types of berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Other safe fruits include bananas, apples (without seeds), watermelon, papaya, pineapples (without the skin), pears, peaches, grapes, etc.
Fruits should be given in small amounts because of their high sugar levels.