Could you imagine if you couldn’t talk? (Sometimes I imagine other people not being able to talk… wouldn’t that be nice? Kidding… kind of.) In all seriousness, though, it would be super hard to communicate without words. So how do we communicate with our bunny babies, and show them that we know what they’re silently saying? If you really want to understand rabbit communication, watch those marvelous (and adorable) ears.
Rabbit ears are complicated. Are they up? Partly sideways? Sideways? Partly back? Fully back? Way way back? Is the fold facing in? Out? All of these ear poses are messages, loud and clear. If you aced bunny vocab, you know this. If you struggled to maintain a passing grade, we’re here to help.
Lop ears can’t do all the things that standy-up ears can, but the intention is there. So watch a little more closely, especially near the base.
Context is everything. Forward facing ears can mean happy excitement, or can be at full attention trying to figure out if that thing is a predator or not. Ears headed back can mean relaxation or anger, depending upon degree. Read gestures taking into account the full environment and prevailing mood.
When sleeping, asking for attention, or just sitting around watching the world go by, your rabbit’s ears are most likely pointed backward, folds facing out, in a relaxed way. Not pulled back tightly, not flattened, but just at rest.
When up on hind legs checking out the window for the Small Pet Select delivery, those ears are most likely straight up, moving around and taking in every sound.
If angry, the ears go through several phases. You may see your rabbit’s ears head off toward the sides, and move steadily down as displeasure increases. If the situation does not improve, those ears start moving back, behind the head. Ohhh, you are in trouble now. Watch the way the folds change from facing out to facing down. Uh oh. If you get to the point where the ears are flattened against the head, you are most likely hearing some grunting, and we advise backing away with your hands in the air and heading out to buy your rabbit a make-up gift.
Fearful rabbits will also have ears pulled back and close to the head, so you've got to read the situation.
If your rabbit’s ears are doing different things (one is heading off to the side and one is up, for instance), your friend is possibly unhappy. Something is going on, and it is worth checking into what may be wrong. Is she not feeling well? Is he in pain? Just having a bad day? Some rabbits have “helicopter ears” – ears going off in different directions, as if one side is standy-up and one not so much. Of course, this is perfectly normal for Hellies – they are a special case, and too cute for words. Those helicopter ears do not mean there is anything wrong at all – in fact, let’s just send a shout out to all the adorable Hellies!
Don’t you wish we could telegraph so much information with our ears? Wouldn’t it be fun to give someone the ear?
So, while bunny language may not include words, they’re communicating. Be on the lookout for what they’re saying.