Young Mountain Hare (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
The Mountain Hare is one of the only animals that survives on the higher slopes all year round. Although the Mountain Hare is native to mainland Scotland it is not native to Harris but was introduced to Roghadal in 1859 for sport and from there spread across Harris. Today, however, it only occurs on North Harris and is not found on South Harris or offshore islands. Mountain Hares can be found down to sea level but are most often encountered on the peaks and rocky slopes of the North Harris hills.
Mountain Hares are the favoured prey of Golden Eagles and have several adaptations that help them avoid predation
Due to the risk of predation, Mountain Hares are secretive animals and tend to seek shelter through much of the day, only venturing into the open in the evening and early morning light. Their favoured day shelters are under rocks and boulders and among deep heather.
Like Rabbits, Mountain Hares have particularly long hind legs allowing them to bound across the ground at high speed to escape a predator if spotted.
Mountain Hare- Summer (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
In their grey/brown summer coat Mountain Hares are very well camouflaged against the heather and rocks in summer. In winter they grow a thick white coat which provides camouflage on snow covered slopes. Although we don’t get much snow on Harris their white coat blends in well with the pale lichen covered rocks of the rugged Harris hills
Mountain Hare- Winter (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
Mountian Hares are adapted for a cold climate, they have large pads on their feet which allow them to bound across the surface of the snow rather than sinking through. They grow a thick white winter coat which is shed in the spring as it gets warmer. They also have strong legs in order to dig through the snow to find food during the winter. Despite these adaptations Mountain hares are occasionally forced down to lower ground during harsh winters when they can be seen along road sides.
Mountain Hares are grazers and browsers
Mountain Hares feed mainly on heather, grasses, sedges and herbs. They are in competition with other herbivores for food and are most abundant in areas that are not over grazed by sheep and deer.
by Robin Reid