This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
Rabbit ears are incredible things. I mean, beyond the obvious (they’re really, really good at hearing, though listening is a different thing altogether) they’re just really good pieces of kit.
One of my favourite thing about bunny ears is helicopter ears, which is the one ear up, one ear down thing.
I don’t know why it’s called helicopter ears. Helicopters don’t have an up rotary blade and a down one. Not that it matters; We’re not here to discuss why it’s called that, but why rabbit’s do it in the first place.
Let’s start with the most common reason your rabbit sticks an ear up.
The rabbit is a young lop
The ears of young lops usually stick up, and sometimes one drops before the other. I also think that they have a bit more control over them when they’re younger (perhaps because their ears aren’t as heavy).
There’s no right age for lops’ ears to drop. Some rabbits have proper lop ears from when they’re tiny, others sport helicopter ears for months. Also, you only need a tiny bit of non-lop DNA somewhere down the line and you might have a helicopter eared rabbit for life. How freakin CUTE.
Your rabbit has one ear up to half-listen to you
This is a classic Holly move, and she can be so funny/rude about it.
Sometimes when she’s relaxing I’ll ask her about a new chew mark on the sofa, or ask who pulled Daisy’s box through the bars of her pen (Daisy has to be kept in a smaller space due to head tilt) and ate it and SHE KNOWS FULL WELL she’s being told off, and I just get one ear raised slightly, so I know that’s she’s half-listening, but fully doesn’t give a crap about what I’m saying.
She also does it when I’m trying to get her to go in her pen, but she doesn’t want to. Like she’s acknowledging that I’m making a noise but she can’t hear what I’m saying.
I’d be mad if she wasn’t so funny.
Sometimes she doesn’t even lift her whole ear, she just rotates it slightly so she can pretend she’s listening to me.
Other ear positions and their meanings:
Flat against the body whilst relaxed
This is most commonly demonstrated in the common ‘loaf’ formation, where rabbits tuck in all their appendages as close to their body as possible, resembling a loaf of bread. It’s cute as hell, and is generally a sign that they’re pretty chill and sleepy.
I don’t think this is any less relaxed a position as a full-on flump, it’s just…different. So I can be really relaxed when I’m sitting down OR lying down. Two relaxed positions.
The ears are usually kept folded close to the body, which can be confusing, since that’s usually not somewhere relaxed buns keep their ears, but you can tell that they’re pretty chill when they’re loafing.
Holly always sleeps with her eyes open in this position, but you can tell shes asleep because she rocks a bit, front to back.
Angry ears are usually flat against the back, and I’m not sure why. Ears do look pretty cute (if you need proof, use your hands to hold a cat’s ears back and look at their face – they’re pretty terrifying without them) and if you’re angry, you don’t want your enemy to be like ‘awww’ (more ‘arrgh’).
Also, rabbit ears are big and bleed a lot, so you don’t want your enemy attacking them. Keeping them close to your body keeps them nice and safe.
Frightened ears vary a bit from rabbit to rabbit (and possibly depending on why they’re frightened).
Many rabbits keep their ears back, close to their body, others have them stick straight up so they can hear as well as possible.
My rabbit always keep their ears moving when they’re frightened, rotating them so they can hear of potential danger coming from all directions. Makes sense!
We call curious ears ‘explorer ears’ because our rabbits always do it when they’re going somewhere unfamiliar, like into a new Amazon box or something.
These ears are usually pointing forward and down – it kind of looks like they’re sending their ears in first to assess any danger before the rest of the rabbit follows.
Holly always has alert ears on. She doesn’t seem to have a scrap of lop in her, and her ears are pretty much always up.
Happy ears are usually up, but it really depends on the rabbit. Holly is so highly strung that she finds being happy quite overwhelming, so her ears are usually all over the place – alert, curious, frightened…even when something good is happening, like she’s getting a treat she loves.
Whilst you can tell a lot about how a rabbit’s ears are, it’s not an exact science.
Can lop rabbits show emotions with their ears?
It really depends on how big their ears are. Some English lops have RIDICULOUSLY large, heavy ears that their owner couldn’t move independently. We had a German lop that could move her ears quite a lot, but didn’t.
It’s important to note that our lop just had one lop ear, and her other ear (mostly chewed off when she was baby) behaved like a regular non-lop ear
Interestingly, the little ear behaves like a regular upright ear, rather than a small lop ear – she could rotate it, and she kept it forward when she was exploring, but she couldn’t do that with the lop ear.
However, whenever she was cleaning her ears, she’d kind of forget that she had a little ear, and try to catch it with her paws as if it were as long as her lop ear. Then she’d realise it was only tiny and just give it a rub with her paw. Every. Single. Time. Like her brain just forgot she only had one lop ear.