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Feature Creature - Red deer

Credits: Gillian Day

The magnificent focus of this feature creature is the RED DEER. The autumn breeding season - the rut - is coming to an end in early winter, so make the most of the best time to see them in action before it's too late.

Fantastic facts:

 

*Size: the UK's largest deer. Males can be as tall as a human and weigh as much as three grown men!

 

*Favourite foods: grass and other plants.    *Enemies: humans, dogs and cars.

 

*Lifespan: around 15 years.     *Latin name: Cervus elaphus (Cervus = deer, elaphus = stag).

 

*Names: male = stag or hart, female = doe, young = fawn.     *Super power: incredible strength

 

But what are these huge herbivores and what can they do? Red deer are:

 

Herd animals

 

Like many large grazing animals, deer often live and travel together in herds. Before humans drove their main predator, the wolf, to extinction in the UK, staying in large groups helped them to spot approaching danger. It also meant that hungry meat eaters were more likely to pick on someone else, which is where the term 'safety in numbers' comes from.

 

When they are not breeding, males and females often travel in separate groups. Mothers and their youngsters graze together while young stags form loose gangs - a bit like teenagers! Some of the more mature stags go it alone.

 

Fighters

 

Red deer are most famous for their huge and dangerous looking antlers which males use to fight off rivals and impress the ladies. When the rut is in full swing, one stag will take ownership of a whole herd of females and chase away any other males who try to mate with them. He uses a belllowing roar, lots of peeing to scent mark the ground and a strutting walk to show off his strength dominance, usually frightening off most competitors without the need for antlers to lock.

 

If all this display, noise and smell doesn't put a rival off, the only way to settle the dispute is to enter a battle of strength. The branches of antlers allow both deer to grip and hold each other as they push, trying to force their rival backward. The loser ofter turns tail and runs, but sometimes injuries can occur.

 

Secretive

 

Despite their huge size, deer are difficult to see in the wild. They are shy of people and have good eyes, ears and noses designed for picking up the signs of dangerous animals like humans. Their long, thin legs allow them to bound away quickly, and they are often most active at dawn and dusk when fewer people are around.

 

Deer fawns also have a extra trick up their sleeve to stay hidden. Their spotty coats help them blend in to dappled woodland floors. They also stay curled in tall vegetation for the first few days of their lives, keeping quiet and still even when approached. This means that fawns found by people are often mistaken for being abandoned, but usually their mother will be keeping an eye on things nearby. The best thing to do if you find a fawn is to leave it alone and walk away quietly.

 

Have a listen to a red deer roar and even download it as a ringtone for your phone here.

 

Images by Wildstock