RED DEER – Cervus elaphus


Red deer facts: Males weigh up to 480 pounds (190 kilograms) and stand up to 48 inches (120 centimeters) high at the shoulder. Females weigh up to 240 pounds (110 kilograms) and stand up to 44 inches (110 centimeters) high at the shoulder. The coat is a rich red color that changes to grayish brown in the cold months. The rump sports a creamy white patch and short tail. Males have antlers that fall off from February to April each year. New ones grow in August.

Geographic range: Found in western Europe, northwest Africa, Asia to western China, and northwestern America. Red deer have been successfully introduced to New Zealand.

Red deer habitat: Red deer prefer to live in forested areas, but in regions where forests have been cleared, this species has adapted. They can be found in open plains, marshlands, mountain terraces, and meadows.

What does red deer eat: Red deer feed mostly on twigs, leaves, and stems of broadleaf trees and shrubs, needles and branches of fir trees, herbs, lichens, fruits, and fungi. They enjoy willow, oak, poplar, and mountain ash trees. Those found in North America depend on western hemlock, fir, western red cedar, willow, and ferns. They also eat skunk cabbage, wall lettuce, and red elderberry.

Behavior and reproduction: Active throughout a twenty-four-hour cycle, red deer are most active at dawn and dusk. They live in small groups within woodlands, where the forest covering offers more protection. In open spaces, they live in larger herds. Males and females live separately except during breeding season, which is in October. At this time, herds separate and males gather together a group of females. During breeding (also known as “rutting”) season, males become more aggressive and less tolerant of one another. Rival stags will roar at one another, lock antlers, and push at each other until one stag “wins” the group of up to forty or so females. Now and then stag antlers will lock, and the two deer will starve to death. Other than this, stags rarely kill each other in the fight for dominance.

After a pregnancy of thirty-three to thirty-four weeks, females give birth to one calf, which is weaned (taken off mother’s milk) between nine and twelve months. At one-and-a-half years of age, red deer are ready to mate. Stags live to the age of twelve years in the wild, females to ten. Predators include foxes, wild cats, golden eagles, and wolves, which prey on the young.

Red deer and people: This deer is hunted for its meat (venison) and for sport. Teams of red deer pulled coaches in ceremonial processions connected with the hunting goddess Diana in Ancient Rome. Humans are the red deer’s primary predator today.

Conservation status: Not threatened. Red deer farming is becoming popular in all regions. Herds in Britain are large enough that they must be culled (reduced in number by selection according to those fittest for survival and reproduction) annually so they do not starve.