There are many birds and mammals that attract people to the Highlands and the Cairngorms National Park at all times of the year. In the winter, many of our moorland animals will move down from the high hilltops for food and shelter from the winter winds higher up the mountains. Some mammals have a clever adaptation to blend into the wintery hillsides like the Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare.
The Mountain Hare (lepus timidus) is a favourite mammal to try and spot here in the Scottish Highlands. There are many reasons to enjoy searching and watching Mountain Hare and its fight for survival in the high moorland areas where they live.
What do they look like?
Often confused with the Brown Hare that we find in countryside fields; the Mountain Hare have some clear features that help to tell them apart. Their summer coats are a greyer shade of brown to blend in with their environment. Their ears are shorter and often pulled down against their backs as a way of hiding from predators. If you get a close enough look, Brown Hare have amber coloured eyes, whereas the Mountain Hare have brown. Their rounded bodies and shorter ears mean they can lay low in ‘forms’ in the landscape to retain body heat.
Their appearance also depends on what time of year you are seeing them. Most mammals we find here in the highlands adapt their coats to cope with the harsh cold winter months. Their coats thicken or even change colour. the Mountain Hares will turn white all over in the main winter months, keeping the dark ear tips and brown eyes.
When and where to see Mountain Hare
They are a resident mammal here in the Scottish Highlands but can also be seen in parts of northern England. They live in upland moorland where they can shelter in amongst the heather and rocky terrain. They are hard to spot in tall heather but in some of our glens and mountain areas, you may be lucky to spot a Mountain Hare at any time of year.
They are certainly easier to spot in the early winter or spring when their coats are white but there is no snow. When it comes to camouflage however the Mountain Hares white coat is a great benefit. This pelage is also important due to where they live as they are underneath the beading eyes of passing Eagles that prey on these mammals. They are well camouflaged when there is sufficient snow, but when there is not, they stand out like a sore thumb!
At Speyside Wildlife we enjoy looking for the Mountain Hare on our holidays throughout the year, or you can join us on a day guide where we can visit a glen or mountain environment in search of these masters of camouflage.
(Header photo: James Stevens)