Rabbit Ear Flicks: Understanding Bunny Ear Positions

rabbit ear flick (the 3 meanings)

Rabbit ears tell you a lot about what they are feeling. However, they can be kind of difficult to decipher if you don’t have a lot of experience with rabbits. Even I get it wrong sometimes, and I’ve worked with hundreds of rabbits during my time volunteering with animal shelters. 

One of the most confusing ear signals is the ear flick. This is because a bunny ear flick can actually have multiple meanings depending on the situation and the rest of your rabbit’s behavior. There are three distinct types that you might observe. Understanding the differences requires close attention to the accompanying behavior and the context in which the ear flick occurs.

By paying attention to what your rabbit is doing and what other stimuli are present in the environment, you can begin to decode the message behind each ear flick. The nuances of the ear flick can reveal if a rabbit simply has itchy ears, is expressing irritation, or is actually very happy.

1. The happy bunny ear flick

The happy bunny ear flick is similar to a mini binky. It’s something your rabbit does when they are feeling happy and energetic, but don’t really feel like doing a full jumping binky. A happy ear flick can signal your rabbit’s contentment or excitement and typically happens when they are somewhat energetic or anticipating something enjoyable.

I see this type of ear flick most often when my rabbits know it’s going to be mealtime soon. They’re not quite in fully binky mode since they don’t smell the food yet, but they know it’s coming soon, so I see lots of little ear flicks of excitement.

The other time that I tend to see a rabbit flicking their ears from happiness is during playtime. My Teddy Bear, in particular, gets really excited when it comes time to play with a new toy and I’ll see some happy ear flicks and some binkies as he expresses his delight.

2. The annoyed rabbit ear flick

It looks almost the same, but an annoyed ear flick is pretty much the opposite of a happy ear flick. Instead of expressing happiness and inviting you to play with them, this type of ear flick is more like swatting your hand away, with your rabbit saying they don’t want any attention right now.

For example, you could be reaching toward your rabbit with the intent to pet them. Then your rabbit’s ears swat the air, almost as if pushing your hand away. This gesture is more than a simple twitch; it’s a deliberate motion indicating that your rabbit is not in the mood for physical contact.

Usually, after your rabbit does this, they will hop away from you, sometimes flicking you off with their back feet (learn about the rabbit foot flick) to more clearly express their annoyance. 

Generally, this behavior happens either when your rabbit is upset with you (maybe you stopped giving them treats, or you recently picked them up), or when your rabbit is too involved in what they are doing and doesn’t want to be interrupted (maybe they are having a lot of fun digging something and don’t want to stop). An unexpected interruption can lead to ear flicking to express their desire to continue undisturbed.

3. The itchy ear flick

The other type of ear flick is simply due to an itchy ear. This one is usually pretty easy to identify since it’s generally followed by your rabbit using its hind leg to scratch the area. There will also usually be multiple ear flicks in quick succession as your rabbit tries to shake off the itch.

And don’t worry, itchy ears are not usually a sign of health problems in rabbits unless it’s frequent and does not stop. If your rabbit seems to be itching their ears all the time, or their scratching is causing bald spots or cuts around their ears, it may be a symptom of something like ear mites or fleas. However, the occasional ear shake and itch is completely normal.

Tips and Tricks Newsletter

If you are new to caring for rabbits, check out the Bunny Lady bimonthly newsletter. Right after you sign up, you’ll receive a FREE pdf rabbit care guidebook. I put together a guide that goes over all the basics of rabbit care so you have it all in one place. Then you will receive tips and tricks about rabbit care straight to your inbox so that you know you’ll be taking excellent care of your new rabbit.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

Recent Posts