Specifically, these are white-tailed jackrabbits, which aren’t rabbits at all, but hares. Hares are larger than rabbits. They have longer hind legs, and longer ears with black markings. Hares live above ground, while rabbits make burrows beneath. Hares change colour with the seasons; rabbits don’t. Male hares are called jacks, females jills, and babies leverets.
One last charming tidbit on jackrabbits: they are named because their long ears reminded someone of a jackass.
I learned all of that from this National Geographic post.
As far as I can tell, jackrabbits love neighbourhoods like McKernan and Garneau. There are very few threats here. Their main predator is probably motor vehicles, but jackrabbits are so spry I can’t imagine this is much of a worry to them. The coyotes that venture up from the river valley are probably a distant second. (This is entirely speculation…)
From observation I can tell you that jackrabbits prefer to eat greens, like grass, clover, and dandelions (which I can supply them in abundance). They also eat certain leafy items in our vegetable patch, like Swiss Chard. This isn’t much of a concern to me, but when it comes to our baby fruit and nut trees, jackrabbits are downright destructive pests.
We have sour cherries, plums, apples, and hazelnuts planted in our yard. They were all procured as saplings only a few inches high from the University of Saskatchewan fruit program. They were planted in the summer, and for a few months they lived peaceably amongst the hares.
Then came fall, and all the green growth in our lawn turned dun. With this the jackrabbits turned their brown, nervous eyes to the baby fruit trees. The slender specimens were eaten back to ground level. The larger apple tree had its bark stripped from the lowest levels of the trunk. The deep snow of winter protected the plants for a while, but come spring, when the snow had left but there wasn’t yet green growth, the devastation continued.
Thankfully, all of the plants, even the ones that were eaten down to the roots, grew back and are doing fine. They breed ’em strong at the U of S.
To keep the jackrabbits at bay we constructed cages. We drove some sturdy sticks into the ground around the plants, wrapped chicken wire in a protective loop, and fastened it with tie-wraps.
I’ve eaten plenty of rabbit, but never hare. Hares don’t do well in captivity; to my knowledge they aren’t farmed like rabbits.
But there are many classic recipes for wild hare. I think of these recipes often when I look out my window and see a jackrabbit squatted in a patch of clover in my yard.
Eating an animal that roams a large city seems like a bad idea at first. Who knows where it’s been or what it’s eaten? But what if I watch the animal sit in my yard, day after day, eating the exact same dandelions that I sometimes make into salad?
Idea for a springtime dish: broad noodles with a sauce of egg yolk, mixed with shredded leg of hare and wilted dandelion greens.