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About Hares and Rabbits.

Because of their gnawing teeth, rabbits and hares once were classified as rodents (Rodentia). But they differ from the others by having two small incisors (cutting teeth) behind the larger ones in the upper jaw. For this reason scientists now place them in a separate order, Lagomorpha. Within the order Lagomorpha, rabbits and hares belong to the family Leporidae. The scientific name of the eastern cottontail rabbit is Sylvilagus floridanus; marsh rabbit, S. palustris; swamp rabbit, S. quaticus; black-tailed jackrabbit, Lepus californicus; varying hare, or snowshoe rabbit, L. americanus; white-tailed jackrabbit, L. townsendii; Arctic hare, L. arcticus; European common hare, L. europaeus; Alpine hare, L. timidus (the Blue Hare ) European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus. The pika belongs to another family, Ochotonidae. Its scientific name is Ochotona princeps.


To escape enemies, rabbits and hares rely chiefly on speed. When a hare or rabbit takes to flight it leaves the ground with a tremendous leap. For an instant its body is stretched out in a straight line.

Then, while still in the air, it brings its hind legs forward until they reach beyond and above its head. While it is bunched in this position, its forepaws strike the ground, one ahead of the other. An instant later the hind legs strike on each side and ahead of the forefeet. Thus the animal is "coiled up" almost like a spring. It "uncoils" suddenly to make its next great leap. The tracks left by the feet form a pattern like a human face. The marks are blurred, because the feet are furry.

A frightened jackrabbit covers from 15 to 20 feet at a bound. Cottontails jump little more than eight ............... feet, and they tire more quickly. Traveling at top speed, they may stop suddenly and jump in another direction. This trick has driven pursuing dogs headlong into barbed-wire fences and even over cliffs.

Hares and rabbits are timid, but they fight bravely in defense of their young and in self-defense. They may leap over the back of another animal or a snake, and give it a fierce kick with the hind legs. They may bite if necessary.


The Blue Hare
Hare-hawking in the 19th century.

By The Hon. Gerald Lascelles - as it appeared in 'The Hare' - 1896,
edited by Jakob E. Borch

      A possibly little known method of taking hares is by hawking. It is, however, rather to be regarded as a tour de force in sporting matters than as a means whereby they can be 'readily reduced into possession,' as the lawyers phrase it. The feat has been performed in modern times in two different ways: first, by means of the long-winged gerfalcon; secondly, of the short-winged goshawk. For the former method a very open country is needed; the flight is often of long duration, for the falcon, soaring above the fleeting hare, will endeavour to stun and confuse her by repeated blows, ere she will 'bind to' or finally seize her quarry. In this kind of flight the hare has every chance to make good her escape to some friendly covert, not indeed without sustaining a shrewd buffet or two, or perchance getting one of her ears slit, but still alive and safe. Ofttimes she will turn to meet the stoop, and, bounding four or five feet into the air, allow the falcon to pass below her, or, by thus springing to meet her, baffle the stoop altogether. Or if a rut or bramble brake afford the scantiest concealment, she may squat therein and is safe, for the long-winged hawks will not pounce upon and seize their quarry thus motionless on the ground. To prevent this, it was in old times the custom to run, with the hawk, a slow lurcher, and it was probably to his efforts that the hare succumbed after being knocked about by the hawk.

      I have myself in recent years seen even a peregrine stoop at a brown hale and knock her head over heels as though shot, while on three or four different occasions the blue hare has been fairly killed by the trained peregrine, just as the brown hare has been taken by the gerfalcon. An account of these remarkable flights will be found in that volume of the 'Badminton' series which relates to Falconry.

      The flight with the goshawk is another affair. It is the nature of these short-winged hawks to seize their prey upon the ground, by one swift dash out of a tree, or, in the case of trained birds, from off the fist of their master. But it requires a very courageous and powerful hawk to hold so muscular a quarry as a fullgrown hare, and the instances of goshawks that could do so regularly are few and far between. None, perhaps, have been better at the work than one that was trained in 1891 by Sir Henry Boynton, of Burton Agnes, which time after time captured, in the open, stout old Yorkshire Wold hares. Some of the flights lasted for half a mile, as the hawk, baffled time after time in making good her grip, would renew the chase almost as a falcon throws herself up after her stoop. But the capture of the hare with a trained bird of prey, though a very fascinating and exciting form of sport, must be looked upon as exceptional.

      The Bonelli eagle has lately been trained with success by M. Barrachin, a French falconer. In his case the eagle was chiefly used for taking rabbits, but there is little doubt that it could be as well trained to take hares, and on open downs this quarry would well display its sweeping powers of flight, and be worth following up. The attempt is worth making by English falconers who have ground suitable for the sport, and if it succeeded a new feature would be added to falconry in this country.

      The only instance of hare-hawking in modern times being regularly followed was that of the sport shown about the year 1869 by the establishment of the late Maharajah Dhuleep Singh at Elveden in Norfolk. There was plenty of open heath land and of large fields well suited to the purpose. Just at that time the Maharajah had sent John Barr, the falconer, to Iceland, to bring back a large stock of these noble falcons. At one time he had as many as thirty-five in his mews, and three or four of these were regularly trained to fly the big brown hares of which he had so many on his estate. No very great number was killed, for disease played havoc with the beautiful falcons, which were ill suited to the damp English climate; but as to their power to take hares, and the possibility of success at this flight, there could be no doubt.

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The Hare and the Porcupine

Once upon a time . . . an old porcupine lived in a large wood with his twin sons. Apples were their favourite dish, but the youngsters sometimes raided a neighboring vegetable plot for the turnips Dad loved to munch. One day, one of the young porcupines set off as usual to fetch the turnips. Like all porcupines, he was a slow walker, and he had just reached a large cabbage, when from behind the leaves, out popped a hare.

"So you have arrived at last!" said the hare. "I've been watching you for half an hour. Do you always dawdle? I hope you're quicker at eating, or it will take you a year to finish the turnips!" Instead of going into a huff at being teased, the porcupine decided to get his own back by being very crafty. Slow on his feet but a quick thinker, he rapidly hit on a plan. So the hare sneered at the slow porcupine, did he? Well, the hare's own turn of speed would be his downfall!

"I can run faster than you if I try," said the porcupine "Ha! Ha!" the hare shrieked with laughter, raising a large paw. "You can't compete with this! My grandad was the speediest hare of his day. He even won a gold penny. He used to be my coach. And you tell me you can run faster than me? Well, I bet my grandad's gold penny that I can win without even trying!"

The porcupine paid little heed to the hare's boastful words and quietly accepted the challenge. "I'll meet you tomorrow down at the ploughed field. We'll race in parallel furrows. And see who wins!" The hare went away laughing.

"Better stay here all night! You'll never get home and back in time for the race!" he told the porcupine. The porcupine, however, had a bright idea. When he arrived home, he told his twin brother what had happened. Just before dawn next day, he gave his instructions, and off they set for the field. Hare appeared, rudely remarking: "I'll take off my jacket so I can run faster!"

Ready! Steady! Go! And in a flash, the hare streaked to the other end of the field. There, waiting for him was a porcupine, which tesingly said:

"Rather late, aren't you? I've been here for ages!" Gasping and so breathless his throat was dry, the hare whispered: "Let's try again!"

"All right," agreed the porcupine, "we'll run the race again." Never in all his life had the hare run so fast. Not even with the hounds snapping at his heels. But every time he reached the other end of the ploughed field, what did he flnd but the porcupine, who laughingly exclaimed: "What? Late again? I keep on getting here first!" Racing up and down the field the hare sped, trying to beat the porcupine. His legs grew terribly tired and he began to sag. And every time he came to the end of the field there stood a porcupine calling himself the winner.

"Perhaps I ought to mention, friend hare, that my grandad was the fastest porcupine of his day. He didn't win a gold penny, but he won apples, and after the race, he ate them. But I don't want apples. I'd rather have the nice gold penny you promised me!" said one of the porcupine twins.

The hare slid to the ground, dead tired. His head was spinning and his legs felt like rubber.

"This race is the end of me! I shall die here in this field, where I really believed I was a sprinter! The shame of it! What a disgrace!" The hare staggered home, hot and sticky, to fetch the gold penny that he had never for a moment ever imagined he would lose. His eyes brimming with tears, he handed it over to the porcupines.

"Thank goodness my grandad isn't alive to see this!" he said. "Whatever would he say? After all his coaching, here I am, beaten by a porcupine!"

That evening, a party was held at the porcupines' house. The twins danced triumphantly in turn, waving aloft the gold penny. Father Porcupine brought out his old accordion for the special occasion, and the fun went on all night.

As luck would have it, the hare never did find out the secret of how the race had been rigged. Which was just as well! . . .


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