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Are Leverets the Real Easter Bunnies?
As Easter approaches and the world turns its attention to mythical bunnies, I’ve been thinking about the origin of the Easter bunny.
Hares only visit their young for a few brief moments a day and it is said that in medieval times people were so unaccustomed to seeing a hare with its young they thought the lone leverets that they found out in the fields had appeared there by magic. It certainly must have seemed odd to come across these vulnerable creatures hiding in the undergrowth. A female hare visits her young so briefly and so secretively that it is very rare to see them together. Only once have I been privileged to see this encounter up close and the experience did feel quite special.
I spotted this particular adult female hare late one evening after she triggered the security lights in the car park at my gallery. I could tell by her posture that she was feeding a leveret and sure enough as she moved away a leveret came in to view. Two nights later it was Easter Sunday and it felt quite incredible to know that I actually had at least one ‘Easter Bunny’ in the garden. I decided to see if I could watch the leveret up close and, hopefully, photograph the moment the adult female visited it. I set up lights and cameras in a store-room doorway that looks out onto my car park. I also redirected some security cameras so that they monitored the area where I had seen the hare feeding her leveret.
I sat in the kitchen watching the TV monitor that linked to the security cameras. I could see bats hunting moths on the screen and then a car drove down into the valley. Just as it passed its headlights lit up a hare in the road and the hare sprang up onto the verge. I was sure this was the adult female I had seen before and sure enough a few minutes later the camera picked up an eye shine on the other side of the car park. I set off to the store, which is about as far away as you can get from the kitchen, ran through the utility room, kicking off my shoes as I went so the hare, which would be on high alert, wouldn’t hear my footsteps. I sped on through the gallery stockroom, the gallery itself, my print room, and on to a second stock room where I eventually sat down and slowly turned on a dimmer switch.
The hare was still there, now less than 10 metres in front of me. And she was suckling her leveret. The air was so still, there wasn’t a breath of wind. I swung my camera around and tried to focus in on the hare but my light wasn’t bright enough and the camera wouldn’t focus. As I turned on another torch the click of the switch alerted her. She walked off, but her leveret pestered her, scampering alongside her long legs. She must have decided it all was OK because she then settled down again to suckle her leveret on the other side of the car park. They were too far off to photograph so I decided to give up and try again another night.
Leverets are born in a ‘forme’ or scrape dug into long grass by the adult female. They are just eight centimetres long at birth. Their eyes are open and they already have a coat of long, silky fur. They can walk as soon as they are born but they stay in the forme until they are three days old and then, if there is more than one in the litter, they tend to disperse into separate hiding places nearby because it is harder for predators to spot individuals than a group. As the leverets grow they will chase one another around after the female has gone. This play lasts for a few minutes and is important for their muscle development since they are to become fast runners.
Each day after sunset the leverets return either to their ‘form’ or very close to it to suckle from their mother. Her visits only last for a few minutes so that she doesn’t attract unwanted predators. She usually has three litters in a year and will stop feeding her young when they are about six weeks old. This hare only had one leveret, which is common for early in the year. As I watched she finished feeding her leveret and climbed back on to the bank. Then the leveret had a mad five minutes running round the car park at top speed. I could hear its paws clawing at the gravel. It didn’t seem to matter that it had no siblings to chase after. The adult hare then disappeared out of sight and the leveret went for cover once again. It was a brief visit but truly fascinating one to have witnessed.
Sadly I missed this hare’s subsequent visits, but the experience of watching this one was so magical it did inspire the painting above, which is what my wildlife watching is all about.
- My gallery in Thixendale is open to visitors from 10.30am to 4.00pm Good Friday, March 30th, Saturday March 31st, Easter Sunday, April 1st, and Easter Monday, April 2nd. Screens showing live video from nest cameras hidden in my garden will be available to view.
If you enjoyed reading this follow this link to read about how I painted a group of hares in snow.
Author: Robert E Fuller