Roe deer are attractive medium sized deer that stand at around 0.60 to 0.75m tall at the shoulder.
When fully grown they weigh between 10 to 25kg. By comparison, an average adult man in Britain is 1.77m high and weighs 79kg.
Roe deer vary in coat colour throughout the year, being most distinguishable in the summer when their coats are bright rusty red. In winter, their coats turn a dull, slate grey colour.
Both sexes have a prominent white rump and no tail. Females (does) have a small ‘tush’ or tuft of hair similar to a tail at the base of the rump patch during the winter.
Roe deer have large black eyes, noses, and mouths surrounded by white/pale areas. They have large ears. Males (bucks) have small antlers, which have three points when fully grown. Antlers are described as ‘pearled’ or ‘bearded’ when they are heavily textured with lots of nodules.
Roe deer are dainty creatures and leave small hoof prints (slots) about 4cm long in soft ground. They use well-worn paths across their range and along these, you may find small piles of faeces. Other characteristic signs of Roe deer are frayed areas of small trees where they rub on over-hanging branches and disturbed areas of soft ground and vegetation which deer have scraped and dug with their hooves. Frequently they also urinate to mark their territory.
History, distribution & habitat
The Roe is one of the truly native deer of the British Isles, the other being the Red deer. Records of them date to before the Mesolithic period (6000 to 10000 years BC).
Today, Roe deer are abundant throughout the British Isles. They are strongly associated with woodlands and have increased in both population and distribution with the increase in woodland planting in the 20th century and strategic reintroductions in Victorian times. Previously, Roe deer suffered almost catastrophic decline due to over-hunting and deforestation. Roe deer are not found in Northern Ireland.
Roe deer are particularly associated with the edges of woodlands and forests. They are also found in areas with copses, scrub and hedgerows and use agricultural fields in these areas too. They are increasingly entering areas closer to our towns and cities as they take advantage of more urban habitats.
Roe deer are often seen as both a positive and negative influence in the countryside. They can cause damage to young woodlands and agricultural crops through browsing, however many landowners and rural industries utilise the stalking of Roe deer and the sale of venison as a substantial supplementary financial income. It is now essential to balance the needs of a sustainable healthy population of Roe deer with those of the environment.
Breeding, behaviour & lifecycle
The rut, or breeding season, occurs between mid-July to mid-August. Bucks become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around one or more does prior to the rut. Fights between bucks can result in serious injury or death with the winner taking over the loser’s territory or attendant doe. Courtship involves chasing between the buck and doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate.
Although mating occurs in this period the fertilised egg does not implant and grow until January. This is thought to be an adaptation to avoid giving birth during harsh northern winters. The gestation period is nine months (four months of no embryonic growth followed by five months of foetal growth) with kids (usually two or three) being born May – June. Heavy mortality may occur shortly after birth and during the first winter.
Roe do not maintain exclusive territories but live within overlapping home ranges. Males mate with several females and females mating with several males has also been observed.
Roe deer are solitary, forming small groups in winter. They are active throughout the 24-hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance. Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk. Long periods are spent ‘lying up’ where the deer lies down to ruminate between feeding bouts.
Both sexes of Roe deer make dog-like barking noises when startled or alarmed. During the breeding season does attract bucks with a high-pitched piping call. Bucks respond with a rasping noise during courtship. Young Roe deer make a high-pitched whistle to attract their mothers when they become lost.
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The Roe Deer – Conservation of a Native Species by Richard Prior (1995) Quiller Publishing
Roe Deer Management and Stalking by Richard Prior (2010) Quiller Publishing