Animals

Fallow deer

by Marcia Malory

Fallow deer are shy, elusive animals that live in forests and open grassland.

They are ruminants - mammals that eat plant-based food by partially digesting it, regurgitating it and chewing it once more.

Before the last ice age, fallow deer were common throughout Europe. After the glaciers advanced, they were restricted to the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Fallow deerDuring the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans reintroduced fallow deer to northern and western Europe.

Although fallow deer come in a variety of colors, most have a dark, dappled coat.

In the summer, the coat is a rich, glossy brown with white spots.

Fallow deer doe, photo by Richard BartzIt changes to gray-brown, with barely discernible spots, in winter.

The fallow deer has a white rump patch with a black horseshoe-shaped line around the edge.

A black stripe runs down the middle of the back. This black stripe leads to a tail that is black on top and white on the bottom.

Fallow deer buck, photo by Johann-Nikolaus AndreaeWhen it wants to warn other members of its herd of danger, the deer flips up its tail, showing the white underside.

Another variety of fallow deer has brown, rather than black, markings. Its main body color is a lighter fawn. Its spots remain distinct in winter.

Another type has a glossy jet-black coat in summer. Its legs and belly are gray. Its spots are indistinct. In the winter, its coat becomes duller.

Some fallow deer are white or pale ginger with orange hooves and pale noses.

Because these different varieties of deer can interbreed, there are many intermediate shades. Parents and their offspring can be different colors.

Fallow deer have brown eyes set in the side of their heads, which give them wide-angled vision. They have large ears that can be swiveled in any the direction, to focus on the slightest sound. These features allow the deer to be alert to any sign of danger.

If they are threatened, fallow deer will quickly run for cover, with a doe leading them in single file.

Sometimes when they are in danger, fallow deer adopt a gait known as stotting, pronking or pronging: They bound stiff-legged on all four feet, feet, stop, look around and run off again.

Some biologists think that by stotting, a deer is letting a predator know that it is healthy and strong and would be difficult to catch. This causes the predator to focuses its attention on a different animal.

From late summer to spring, bucks (adult male deer) have large antlers, which they shed later.

Diet

Fallow deer eat leaves and twigs.

In the summer, they eat grasses and herbs.

They usually feed at dawn and dusk.

In the autumn, fallow deer eat acorns, beechnuts, sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts.

Mating

The mating season of the fallow deer is known as the rutting season.

Bucks spend the summer away from does (adult female deer) and fawns (young deer).

They return before the rut begins in October.

Then they parade around their territories and advertise their presence to other bucks by thrashing bushes and trees with their antlers and groaning loudly.

Sometimes bucks will strip the bark off older trees, rub the trunk smooth and mark it with secretions from glands below the corners of their eyes.

They also scrape the ground with their forefeet.

At this time of year, bare patches of muddy ground with hoofmarks and hairs and the can be found. They smell of pungent urine.

The rutting cry - a deep, belching noise, can be heard a long way off on a still night.

A buck will herd the does that are attracted into his territory.

He will fight off any rivals, groaning at them and chasing them.

Rival bucks will size each other up and often pace the ground shoulder to shoulder until they finally clash antlers.

Fawns

Eight months after mating, the doe seeks out a quiet, secluded place to give birth to her fawn.

This is usually in June, when the bracken and long grasses of the forest floor provide good cover.

Once the fawn is born, the doe licks it clean and suckles it. She then moves back to the doe herd or feeds alone.

She returns to feed her fawn several times a day.

In the summer, does and fawns live separately from bucks.

The does and their young often form herds once the fawns are a few weeks old.

Reaching Maturity

When a male fawn is about three months old, it begins to grow a tuft a hair on its penis sheath.

Some male fawns will have noticeable bumps by the time they are six months old. These bumps are known as pedicles; antlers will grow from them.

They will have formed their first antlers - either stubs or spikes of about six inches - on top of their pedicles when they are about a year old.

In their second year, the young bucks leave the doe herd and join the older bucks.

Does mate for the first time when they are about 16 months old. They give birth to their first fawn by their second birthday.