Broom hare (Lepus castroviejoi)

Broom hare
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Broom hare fact file

Broom hare description

GenusLepus (1)

The broom hare (Lepus castroviejoi) is a medium-sized hare species from mountainous regions of northwest Spain (1) (4). Its fur is yellowish-brown on the upperparts and white on the underparts, with a sharp transition between the two colours. There is also a distinctive light stripe on the face, running from the eye to the bottom of the cheek (2) (3) (5) (6). The broom hare’s tail is black and white (2) (5) and the tips of its long ears, like those of many Lepus species, have black edges (7).

Like other hares, the broom hare has long hind limbs and large hind feet, which allow it to run at speed over open ground. Its feet are fully furred (7) (8). All hares have large eyes, which are positioned on the sides of the head to give a broad field of vision (5) (7). Hares’ ears are large and can be turned in different directions, giving a highly developed sense of hearing (7).

The broom hare is intermediate in size between the closely related Iberian or Granada hare (Lepus granatensis) and the European or brown hare (Lepus europaeus), which also occur in Spain. The broom hare can by distinguished mainly by the amount of white on its belly, which is more extensive than in the brown hare but less extensive than in the Iberian hare. The brown hare also lacks the clear contrast between the white underparts and brown upperparts (2) (3) (5) (6).

The taxonomy of European hares has sometimes been debated, but studies have now confirmed the broom hare to be a distinct species (1) (2) (3) (9). However, it is very similar genetically to the Corsican hare (Lepus corsicanus), and the two may potentially be the same species (10).

Liebre De Piornal.
Head-body length: 45 - 51.5 cm (2)
Tail length: 7.6 - 9.6 cm (2)
2.6 - 3.5 kg (2) (3)

Broom hare biology

The broom hare typically shelters among scrub or trees during the day, moving into pastures and clearings at night to feed. However, it rarely ventures far from shelter in case of attack by predators (2) (3). Unlike rabbits, hare species rarely dig burrows, instead typically resting in depressions in the ground or vegetation, known as ‘forms’, and relying on their camouflage and strong running abilities to escape danger (7) (8).

The diet of the broom hare consists mainly of grasses and other herbaceous vegetation typical of mountain grasslands, and it often moves into recently burned areas of scrub to feed on tender new shoots (2) (3). Like other hares and rabbits, the broom hare is likely to maximise the nutrients gained from its food by re-ingesting its faeces, so that food passes through the digestive tract twice (7) (8).

There is little information available on reproduction in the broom hare, but it has been observed mating in April and May (2). The breeding season of this species is likely to be shorter than that of the brown hare (L. europaeus) and Iberian hare (L. granatensis) due to the limitations of its high altitude habitat, but in other respects its reproductive behaviour is likely to be similar to that of other hare species (2) (3).

Most hare species are largely solitary outside of the mating season. Female hares usually give birth to between one and nine young at a time, with species in temperate areas typically having one or two large litters each year, while those nearer the equator can have up to eight litters of one to two young each year (4) (7) (8). Overall, this gives a fairly standard value of about ten young per female per year for most hare species (4) (7).

Young hares are born after a gestation period of around 40 to 50 days and are well developed at birth, being fully furred, with open eyes, and able to move about shortly after birth (4) (5) (7) (8). The young are typically born in an open place or in a shallow depression on the ground, and soon separate from each other and from the female, hiding in vegetation and only coming back together for very brief periods of suckling by the female (5) (7) (8). The female hare’s milk is highly nutritious, and the young are usually weaned after around 17 to 23 days (7).

In general, young hares do not usually breed in their first year of life (8). Most hares do not survive beyond their first year, but those that do can sometimes reach up to five years of age (7).


Broom hare range

The broom hare is endemic to the Cantabrian Mountains of northwest Spain, where it occurs between Sierra de los Ancares and Sierra de Peña Labra. It inhabits a region approximately 230 kilometres from east to west and just 25 to 40 kilometres from north to south (1) (2) (3) (4) (5).


Broom hare habitat

The broom hare’s preferred habitat is heath and scrubland dominated by various species of Erica, Calluna, Vaccinium, Juniperus and, as its common name suggests, broom (Cytisus and Genista species). It can also be found in clearings in woodlands containing beech (Fagus) and oak (Quercus) (1) (2) (4) (5) (11).

This species tends to be most frequently found where areas of broom and heather are interspersed with mountain pastures (2) (3), and it sometime selects areas that have been burned or where broom has been cleared (1) (2). The broom hare may also sometimes visit cultivated areas near towns in winter (5).

A mountain species, the broom hare is found at elevations of around 1,300 to 1,900 metres, but it descends to around 1,000 metres in winter to avoid snow (1) (4) (5).


Broom hare status

The broom hare is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Broom hare threats

The broom hare inhabits a relatively restricted range and occurs in very specific patches of suitable habitat, meaning its populations are highly fragmented (1) (3). Although it is found in good numbers in some areas, its population may be declining in some northern and peripheral parts of its range (1) (2) (3).

The main threats to the broom hare are hunting and habitat loss. The broom hare is a game species, and has been heavily hunted at the western edge of its range (1) (4). This species is vulnerable to excessive hunting and poaching, although the level of exploitation is generally low and hunting is prohibited in some areas (2) (3).

The broom hare’s highly specialised habitat is under threat from a decline in traditional rural activities such as livestock grazing. Traditional grazing maintains the mosaic of pastures and scrub preferred by the broom hare, while a decline in grazing leads to the invasion of grassy areas by woody shrubs (3) (11).

Further habitat loss could lead to smaller, more isolated broom hare populations which are at greater risk of local extinction (3) (11). In addition to these threats, the broom hare may also be negatively affected by fires, poisoning by fertilisers and pesticides, and mortality on roads (1) (3).


Broom hare conservation

The Cantabrian Mountains cover areas of great conservation value and much of the region is well protected. A large proportion of the broom hare’s range lies within reserves, so conservation and management measures for this species should be relatively straightforward to implement (1) (11).

One of the main conservation measures recommended for the broom hare is to develop appropriate hunting regulations throughout its range (1) (2) (3) (4). It will also be important to avoid introducing other hares to the areas in which it occurs (1) (2), as hare species can often exclude each other from otherwise suitable habitat (4).

Measures to improve and restore suitable broom hare habitat have also been recommended (1) (2) (3), with a priority being to establish habitat ‘corridors’ to connect localised hare populations and encourage interbreeding (1) (11). Traditional livestock practices should also be encouraged to help maintain areas of suitable habitat (2) (3) (11), and the use of fertilisers and pesticides should require an assessment into the risks posed to the broom hare (2) (3).

Many aspects of the broom hare’s biology and population dynamics are still poorly understood, so this species would also benefit from further research, particularly into its reproduction and survival rates (1) (2) (3). The effects of habitat changes, habitat management measures, predation pressure and illegal hunting on the broom hare population should also be investigated (1) (11).


Find out more

Find out more about the broom hare and its conservation:

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A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
A small, non-woody, seed bearing plant in which all the aerial parts die back at the end of each growing season.
The science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Ballesteros, F. (2003) Liebre de piornal, Lepus castroviejoi Palacios, 1976. Galemys, 15(1): 3-13.
  3. Ballesteros, F. (2008) Lepus castroviejoi Palacios, 1977. In: Palomo, L.J., Gisbert, J. and Blanco, J.C. (Eds.) Atlas y Libro Rojo de los Mamíferos Terrestres de España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad-SECEM-SECEMU, Madrid. Available at:
  4. Chapman, J.A. and Flux, J.E.C. (1990) Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland. Available at:
  5. Alonso, M.R., Alberti, J.P., Fernández, J.A.M., García, T.Y., García, P.M., Cabrero, C.S., Yelmo, M.A.N. and Pulido, R.M. (1997) La Liebre. Mundi-Prensa, Madrid.
  6. Palacios, F. (1989) Biometric and morphologic features of the species of the genus Lepus in Spain. Mammalia, 53(2): 227-264.
  7. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  9. Estonba, A., Solís, A., Iriondo, M., Sanz-Martín, M.J., Pérez-Suárez, G., Markov, G. and Palacios, F. (2006) The genetic distinctiveness of the three Iberian hare species: Lepus europaeus, L. granatensis, and L. castroviejoi. Mammalian Biology, 71(1): 52-59.
  10. Alves, P.C. and Melo-Ferreira, J. (2007) Are Lepus corsicanus and L. castroviejoi conspecific? Evidence from the analysis of nuclear markers. In: de Filippo, G., de Riso, L., Riga, F., Trocchi, V. and Troisi, S.R. (Eds.) Conservazione di Lepus corsicanus De Winton 1898 e Stato delle Conoscenze. IGF Publishing, Napoli, Italy.
  11. Acevedo, P, Alzaga, V., Cassinello, J. and Gortázar, C. (2007) Habitat suitability modelling reveals a strong niche overlap between two poorly known species, the broom hare and the Pyrenean grey partridge, in the north of Spain. Acta Oecologica, 31: 174-184.

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Broom hare  
Broom hare

© Hector Ruiz /

Hector Ruiz


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