Mad March Hare

Irish hare with distinctive white tail

The Irish hare is unique to the island of Ireland and is one of our few truly native mammals. Hares can run up to 45mph making them our fastest land mammal.

In spring, hares often come together in a group for courtship and there is a higher chance of seeing these otherwise elusive animals. Their courtship is energetic with ‘boxing’, kicking and lots of leaping around which is where the phrase 'Mad as a March hare' comes from. The March hare is a character made famous for appearing in the tea party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The female hares (jills) are slightly bigger than the males (jacks) and produce one to four young (leverets) which are weaned after three weeks. Unlike rabbits, Irish hares do not use burrows. They live above ground and their homes are called forms which are shallow depressions in dense vegetation such as tall grass, rushes, heather and marram grass at the coast. They feed exclusively on plants and eat a varied diet of grasses, sedges, seeds and even seaweed. They are agile creatures which can run up to 45mph, making them our fastest land mammal.

The Irish hare has shorter ears than the brown hare
An Irish hare
The Irish hare has shorter ears than the brown hare

Northern Ireland is home to two types of hares; the European ‘brown’ hare and Irish hare. 

What is the difference between the Irish and brown hare?

The coat of the Irish hare can be quite variable but is generally russet brown with a white underbelly. The European ‘brown’ hare is generally darker and has an overall mottled appearance. Key features to distinguish between two species: the Irish hare has shorter ears than the brown hare and the upper surface to the tail is white; the brown hare which is dark patch on its tail.

Where you can find them?

Irish hares can be seen at many of our properties in a variety of habitats. From coastal dunes to lowland grasslands and upland areas of peatland and grassland, hot spots include Ballyquintin Point, Crom, Fair Head and Ballyconagan on Rathlin Island. They can also be found on golf courses and some reside at Belfast International Airport!   

If you are lucky enough to spot an Irish hare please let our local Record Centre know (details below) and take a picture (if you can).

Best time of the day to see them?

Hares are active mainly at night and prefer undisturbed areas where there is plenty of cover, so they can be difficult to spot.  The best opportunity is likey to be early morning or at dusk during springtime. You'll need short grass to see them.

How you can help build a better picture of how the hare is doing?

If you spot an Irish or brown hare, submit a record of your sighting to the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, based at the National Museums Northern Ireland. This helps us build up a picture of how our native species are faring in today’s natural environment. You can do this online at https://www2.habitas.org.uk/records/ 

How we are helping the Irish Hare?

As a conservation charity we are committed to restoring a healthier, more beautiful, natural environment. We aim to achieve this by working with people to make our land better, bigger and more joined up. In doing so we will be ensuring that nature within our properties is conserved and enhanced. From the parklands of Crom to the top of Slieve Donard, we manage sites of exceptionally high nature conservation value.