by Janet Alexander
Black-tailed Jack Rabbits are members of the hare family. Unlike cottontails and brush rabbits (the two other species we see in the area which are true rabbits), they do not build nests. The mother simply chooses a place to her liking and the young are born fully furred, with their eyes wide open. True rabbits (such as brush and cotton-tailed) are born without fur and eyes closed.
There are three species of hares native to California : the black-tailed, the white-tailed and the snowshoe hare. The black-tailed and white-tailed hares are commonly called jack rabbits. Only the black-tailed variety is seen at our Center.
The black-tailed jack prefers to live in valleys and flat, open country. It is 18 to 25 inches long and is buff-colored, peppered with black above and white below. The tail has a black stripe above. The ears of the adult are long and brown with distinctive black tips.
The black-tailed jack is by far the most common and is found all over California except in the mountainous areas at elevations above 12,000 feet. Although much of the valley has been developed, they have adapted to the encroachment on their habitat and seem to thrive even in highly urbanized areas.
In the more temperate areas of the black-tailed jack’s range, breeding may continue year round. Usually several litters are born each year. There may be as many as eight babies, but the average litter is from two to four. The mother hides her young when she goes out to feed (for long periods of time), and, upon returning, mother and young call to locate each other.
Many of the rabbits brought to us are over-rescued because people who find them mistakenly think they have been abandoned by the mother. The young are difficult to raise; low stress is an important factor in successful rearing.
Young jack rabbits are born bright-eyed and active and after only one month they can fend for themselves. They grow rather rapidly and reach adult size in about seven or eight months. Sexual maturity is attained at about the same time, but young females do not breed until early in the year following their birth. In the wild they may live up to eight years, but have many natural enemies with which they must contend. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, owls, hawks and snakes prey on both the young and adults.
Hares are most active at dusk and throughout the night, when they can forage with relative security. They spend the greater part of the day resting in scratched-out hollows in the ground. With their long ears flattened against their backs, they are quite difficult to see. When frightened, they can run at high speeds. At the start of a chase, their speed is broken by high, long leaps.
Jack rabbits are strict vegetarians, eating a great variety of herbs and shrubs. During the spring and summer, they feed on clover, alfalfa and other abundant greens. During the lean fall and winter months, they subsist on woody and dried vegetation.