Monday, January 21, 2008 10:17:04 PM
The Red deer (Cervus elaphus), above, is one of our 2 native species, the other being the Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). It is our largest species deer, with males up to 2.6m long, 120cm tall at the shoulder and 150kg in weight. The females are smaller up to about 105cm tall at the shoulder and 100kg. They have a reddish brown coat, which is greyer in winter. They inhabit open areas, such as the moorland of Scottish Highlands and woodland.
Red deer feed mainly by grazing in fields but they are opportunists and will also feed on tree foliage, acorns, fruit and strip tree bark. The latter has brought them into conflict with tree plantations and the habit of taking advantage of fruit and vegetables, and feeding in livestock fields has caused tension with farmers. They can also carry bovine TB, but they seem to have avoided the blame for the rise in cases of this disease in cattle, unlike badgers, but more on that another time. What they feed on varies throughout the year, depending on what is most readily available at the time.
An older adult male, a stag, sports an impressive pair of antlers (see above). The antlers get progressively larger and more branched each year. The antlers are shed every year in February and May, and then the stags grow a new (larger) pair. During this period of antler re-growth the antlers are covered in velvet. Growing the antlers uses a lot of calcium, and in order to get this the stags will chew on the shed antlers and even bones! And if the males need to settle a dispute in this time they will ‘box’ with their forelegs.
The antlers are fully grown by early September and then the rut begins. A stag will round up a harem of females (hinds) and defend them from other males. He will do this by using a deep bellowing call to warn off other males.
If this fails the stag will rut with the other male (see below)
When the male wishes to mate he will approach the hind, often while she is lying on the ground. He will then nose her, before moving on to licking her head and body and then proceeds towards her rear where he smells her scent to see if she is receptive. If she is he will attempt to mate with her, although she will not necessarily let him!
But the male does not eat much, if at all while guarding (and mating) with his harem. Eventually he becomes so exhausted that he has to surrender to a rival male. The rutting and mating continues till the end of November. Also, during this time, red deer go through the autumn moult.
The young, or calves as they are called are born usually between May and July, with a peak in early June, although births have occurred as late as December. The hind leaves the herd to give birth alone. To start with the spotted backed calves will stay in one place will the mother goes off to feed. They will stay quite still and when approached will drop there head and ear down to hide from predators. While at this stage they will even not move when picked up! After a week or so they will follow the mother and may join a crèche of other youngsters
Outside the breeding season the females and males tend to herd separately or live alone. The females are in groups with set hierarchies, where as the males are in less organised, less stable groups.
Each herd tends to stay in there home range. This home range larger in open country herds than for those in woodland. Those that inhabit highland areas will descend into valleys and lowlands in harsher weather.Red deer use both sound and visual signals to communicate. The roaring call of the male is probably best know, and most frequently heard, especially in rutting season. The females can let of a bark when alarmed and a low frequency call, use to call calves. The calves can also let off a high pitched squeal when alarmed. Red deer also grunt at each other.
Visual signals include the white rump patch which acts as an alert as they run off to the others: kind of “I’m running off, so you better too!’ Visual threat in the form of head raising and antler showing can also be seen.
Physical contact, other than the boxing and rutting can occur. When settling disputes the red deer of both sexes will, with there forelimbs, try to trip the others hind limbs, while chasing them.
And there we have it. My first attempt. Apologise about the layout. It appears to be breaking its own rules on spacing etc. that I thought I had worked out and now its so bad I think of going back to crappy blogger! (any help welcome!). Anyway any comments welcome, and congratulations if you read this far!
References and further reading:
- T. H. Clutton-Brock, F. E. Guiness and S. D. Albon, 1982 Red deer: Behaviour and Ecology of Two Sexes, Edinburgh University Press
- R. Putman, 1988, The natural history of Deer, Christopher Helm Ltd, Bromley
- V. Geist,. 1999. Deer of the World. Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury
- P. Carne, 2000, Deer of Britain and Ireland, Swan Hill Press
- G. B. Corbet and S. Harris, 1991, The Handbook of British Mammals, Third edition, Blackwell Scientific Publishing