Even Sparrows... Bird watchers


Posted: 02.03.20 in Articles category

"Mad as a March hare". A well worn phrase memorable for its alliteration. Apparently it derives from the behaviour of 'boxing hares' in spring when 2 adult hares chase each other and stand on their hind legs having fisticuffs, attacking each other with their front legs. Surprisingly, these are not fights between competing males but between male and female hares - the larger female fending off the unwanted attentions of an amorous male by giving him a 'boxing'.

The full story behind boxing hares can be read in 'The Way of the Hare', a wonderful recent book by Marianne Taylor. She provides a wealth of facts and fiction about hares across the world, but her main focus is the 3 species of hare we have in the British Isles. Various myths about hares give them supernatural powers, but the earthly reality is that hares live precariously short lives that typically end when they are killed. As Marianne Taylor herself puts it, "a hare's life doesn't sound like a great one - brief, frantic, and basically hurtling towards a probably bloody and quite possibly agonising end." However, she goes on to write: "... when you watch hares engaged in their courtship dances, leaping and chasing and pelting flat-out across an open rural field in the mellow glow of a springtime sunset, they seem the very epitome of 'joie de vivre', and you can't look at them without feeling at least a little of their exuberant energy.... Life doesn't have to be long to be good."

I am lucky enough to see hares regularly where I live. Usually I see single adults, but I have seen boxing behaviour in spring and it makes for a great spectacle. Usually I see them in open fields either crouching down, completely still as they try to hide, or bursting into a run at great speed away from danger. Whatever they are doing, they are lovely animals to observe with their long black-edged ears, fawn colours and elongated body shapes. Whether it's March or anytime in the year, hares are always marvellous to see.

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