Rabbits can breed at any time of year
We have all heard the expression "breeding like rabbits" but just how prolific are the modern day wild descendants of the domestic stock that the Normans introduced to Ireland in the twelve century as a source of meat and fur?
The peak breeding time among Rabbits in Ireland is from April to June. Depending on weather, population size, availability of food and other factors, that breeding time can be extended to as early as January and as late as August. If conditions are exceptionally good breeding can take place at any time of the year.
When females or does come into heat they mate with the males or bucks. Gestation lasts about 30 days after which the mother produces a litter of about five young called kittens. The litter may number as small as three or and large as seven, exceptionally ten.
Litter size is determined by the age and general health of the mother. Lack of food, poor weather and social stresses caused by overcrowding all contribute to driving down the number of young produced.
When time to deliver approaches the doe digs a special burrow called a nest-stop in which to give birth. The nest-stop is located at a slight remove from the main warren. The doe plucks soft fur from her body and uses it to line the birth chamber.
When the kittens are born the mother feeds them and leaves the nest-stop carefully sealing and concealing the entrance as she departs. She joins the other Rabbits in the warren and mates again within 24 hours of giving birth thereby starting the reproductive cycle again and giving rise to the expression "breeding like rabbits".
Under cover of darkness she returns to her nest-stop and suckles the offspring of her first litter. She feeds them once each night; otherwise they are left totally unattended. The bucks play no part in parenting.
The kittens venture above ground at about age 18 days and are weaned at about age 24 days just in time for their mother to prepare to give birth again. She will go on to produce three to seven litters during the year.
Mortality among the young Rabbits may be as high as 90% in their first year. However, those that do survive may go on to live to the ripe old age of five years. Females can start "breeding like rabbits" in their first year of life.
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