As much as I love my rabbits, I know I have at least twice that many wild rabbits on my land. 

It’s never so noticeable as it is in winter when I see their footprints all over the fresh snow. 

One day I was pointing these prints out to my five-year-old when he got a worried look on his face and asked: what do rabbits eat in winter?

He was worried they wouldn’t find enough or survive as our pet rabbits do. 

Wild rabbits change their diets to include more wood and bark elements during the winter months. They slow down how much they need to eat and stick with bark, twigs, needles, and any plants they can reach. Rabbits don’t hibernate and eat every day, all winter long. 

Rabbits are tough creatures in winter, with many survival adaptations. 

Read on to learn more about their winter survival needs. 

What Do Rabbits Eat In Winter
Rabbits change their diet to survive the winter months.

What Do Rabbits Eat?

Rabbits eat different foods throughout the year. 

They are herbivores and eat a plant-based diet. In colder weather, they eat wood such as: 

  • Tree bark 
  • Twigs
  • Pine needles 

The rest of the year, they eat green plants such as: 

  • Clover
  • Leafy weeds
  • Green grasses 
  • Shrubs
  • Tree seedlings 

Rabbits can be picky about what they will eat, and they prefer fresh leafy plants. 

They will climb a tree to get fresh leaves before eating dead ones on the ground. 

You will find them feeding at dawn and dusk, as they are crepuscular. 

Yes, you read that right above. Wild rabbits will climb trees! …to a certain extent. 

It’s less of a climb than a running hop up the side of a tree with lower branches, but it’s still shocking how high they get.

How to Help Wild Rabbits in Winter

There are ways that you can help wild rabbits get food in the winter, but you need to be careful because you don’t want to attract other animals to feeding stations. 

Add more shrubs to your yard to give rabbits a place to shelter and feed. 

The key is to help the wild rabbits without overdoing it. 

You don’t want them to become dependent on you for food and stop searching on their own. 

First, ensure that you protect cooler weather plants with hardware cloth or chicken wire. 

Even though you are helping them, you don’t want to encourage them to eat them. 

Then, take small branches and twigs from your pruning and place them around your yard near sheltered areas. 

This provides them with a food source, but it sticks with the type of food they are accustomed to eating in the winter. 

Leave some Timothy hay out for them, but you risk making them dependent on you by feeding them something they love that they can’t find on their own. 

Speaking of eating, read to discover if rabbits can overeat and what that looks like.

Where Do Rabbits Go in Winter?

Wild rabbits usually spend their lives within a five-acre space. 

Rather than leaving to find the foods they enjoy during the winter, they modify their diets. 

They eat available foods that are wood-based, such as bark, twigs, and needles. 

Rabbits dig holes to create burrows, and they search for closed-in spaces such as rock piles, brush piles, and hollow logs.

They stay in the same area and find warmer spaces where they can stay warm and safe. 

Do Wild Rabbits Hibernate in Winter?

wild rabbits in winter food
Rabbits remain active all winter long.

Rabbits do not hibernate in the winter. 

They stay in a five-acre area for most of their lives, and they adjust their diet and habits in the winter. 

Rabbits take shelter in hollow logs, brush piles, and holes. 

They continue to look for food, just as they do in warmer months. 

You may not see rabbits in the winter, but that is because they are crepuscular, meaning they are out at dusk and dawn. 

These are the safest times for them to find food because the darkness helps conceal them from predators. 

They spend the rest of the day sheltered in vegetation or burrows. 

Animals often hibernate because they can’t find food, but rabbits can change their diet to wood-based foods available to them. 

They do sleep around eight hours a day, split into 25-minute naps. 

Do Rabbits Store Food for the Winter?

Rabbits do not store food for the winter. 

Their digestive systems are set up to alter their diet in the winter. 

They can survive on bark, twigs, and pine needles, so they do not need to store food by gathering it in the fall. 

Rabbits spend the winter looking for food every day, as they do in the other seasons. 

They limit their foraging to dusk and dawn because they are more vulnerable in the winter. 

However, they find food daily rather than store it. 

Pet Rabbits Versus Wild Rabbits in Winter

Although pet rabbits and wild rabbits are all rabbits, there are major differences. 

Wild rabbits have good instincts and survival skills. 

Pet rabbits are used to having food, water, and shelter provided for them, and they are usually unable to survive independently. 

Both pet and wild rabbits can handle cold weather because their coats protect them from the cold. 

Wild rabbits seek shelter that is dry and away from any breeze, while pet rabbits need shelter and a dry space provided for them. 

Another difference is their diet. 

You will continue feeding your pet rabbit the same pellets and hay that you feed in the warmer months. 

Wild rabbits will adjust their diet to survive on the available foods. 

As the temperatures become colder, your rabbit will grow a thicker coat and get fur pads around its feet. 

You don’t want to overheat the rabbit, which can happen if you bring them inside once its body is prepared for the cold. 

If you do bring it inside, it will start shedding the winter fur after a week or so, and then you won’t be able to move it back outside. 

Tips for Feeding Wild Rabbits in Winter

  • Plant shrubs and greenery that survives and grows throughout the winter
  • Grow plants year-round that are rabbit-friendly
  • Don’t use pesticides or fertilizers on your lawn or garden
  • Let wildflowers grow on your lawn
  • Plant berry bushes
  • Include trees, such as sumac, oak, and dogwood
  • The bark from young trees is more delicious to rabbits than bark from older trees
  • Plant tall evergreens
  • Provide foods that are part of their natural diet
  • Don’t include treats or rabbit pellets
  • You can feed Timothy hay, but be careful not to encourage dependency

Should You Feed Wild Rabbits in the Winter?

Help rabbits by making sure that it is easy to find food in the winter, but you should not start providing them with hay and rabbit pellets. 

Wild animals will become dependent on humans for their food source if they aren’t forced to forage on their own. 

Make it easier for them by planting shrubs and bushes made of food they like, and providing shelter for them in the form of cover from shrubs.