European hares are large fast-running mammals. Their eyes are set high on the sides of their head, and they have long ears and a flexible neck. The fur colour is grizzled yellow-brown on the back; rufous on the shoulders, legs, neck and throat; white on the underside and black on the tail and ear tips. The fur on the back is typically longer and more curled than on the rest of the body. The European hare's fur does not turn completely white in the winter, although the sides of the head and base of the ears become whitish and the hip and rump region may gain some grey.
European hares are native to much of continental Europe and part of Asia. Their range extends from northern Spain to southern Scandinavia, eastern Europe, and northern parts of Western and Central Asia. They have been extending their range into Siberia. They have also been introduced, mostly as game animals, to North America (in Ontario and New York State, and unsuccessfully in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), South America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and the Falkland Islands), Australia, both islands of New Zealand and the south Pacific coast of Russia. European hares primarily live in open fields with scattered brush for shelter. They are very adaptable and may occur in mixed farmland.
European hares are generally nocturnal shy in nature animals but change their behavior in the spring. At this time they can be seen during the day chasing one another around in fields. At night, European hares spend a third of their time foraging in small groups. During the day they hide in a depression in the ground called a "form" where they are partially hidden. These hares can run at 70 km/h (43 mph) and when confronted by predators they rely on outrunning them in the open. They are generally solitary but can be seen in both large and small groups. They are not territorial and live in shared home ranges. European hares communicate with each other by a variety of visual signals. To show interest they raise their ears while lowering the ears warns others to keep away. When challenging a conspecific, a hare thumps its front feet; the hind feet are used to warn others of a predator. They squeal when hurt or scared and females make "guttural" calls to attract her young.
European hares are primarily herbivorous. During the spring and summer, they feed on soy, clover, corn poppy, grasses, and herbs. During autumn and winter, they primarily choose winter wheat, piles of sugar beet and carrots provided for them by hunters. They also eat twigs, buds and the bark of shrubs and young fruit trees during winter. They sometimes eat their own green, faecal pellets to recover undigested proteins and vitamins.
European hares are both polygynous (single males mating with multiple females) and polygynandrous (promiscuous). Females have six-weekly reproductive cycles and can mate for only a few hours at a time, making competition among local bucks intense. This phenomenon is known as "March madness", when the normally nocturnal bucks are forced to be active in the daytime. During this spring frenzy, hares sometimes strike one another with their paws ("boxing"). This is usually not competition between males, but a female hitting a male, either to show she is not yet ready to mate or as a test of his determination. The breeding season lasts from January to August. Females give birth in hollow depressions in the ground. An female may have 3 litters per year consisting of 1-8 young. Gestation lasts 41-42 days. Babies are born fully furred and ready to leave the nest soon after birth. They disperse during the day and come together in the evening. Their mother visits them for short night nursing and after that leverets disperse once more. Young can eat solid food after 2 weeks and are weaned at 4 weeks after birth. Sexual maturity occurs at 7-8 months for females and 6 months for males.
European hares have a wide range and are moderately abundant. However, populations have been declining in mainland Europe since the 1960s, at least partly due to changes in farming practices. These hares have been hunted across Europe for centuries, with more than five million being shot each year; in Britain, they have traditionally been hunted by beagling and hare coursing, but these field sports are now illegal. Disease is another threat to European hares. These diseases are European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS), Pasteurellosis, Yersiniosis (Pseudo-tuberculosis), Coccidiosis and tularaemia.
According to IUCN, the European hare is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, however, its numbers today are decreasing.