Understand the British deer rut

Red, fallow and sika deer are most exciting to watch in the autumn, when the rut begins. But not all deer are the same, so what should you look out for?

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Fallow deer rutting in Knole Park, England.
October is the most exciting time of year to watch our deer as they engage in fierce mating battles. The three largest species of deer (red, fallow and sika) all rut in the autumn and are easy to watch in parks and in the wild.
 
Rutting activity is most intense soon after dawn, though some activity occurs throughout the day. Deer are interesting to watch because their behaviour changes as the rut progresses.
 
But remember that male deer are pumped full of testosterone and highly aggressive; in parks, attacks on dogs are not uncommon and sometimes people are also injured. So don’t get too close.
 
THE DEER AND THEIR MATING STRATEGIES:
 
Fallow (pictured above
 
  • The mating strategy of fallow deer is very variable, depending on habitat, time of rut and deer density.
  • Fallow deer may form harems with many does. Or there may be several bucks with a few does (as in a lek). Individual bucks may wait for does on a rutting stand under large (often oak) trees or pursue oestrous does.
  • Fighting behaviour is similar to red deer.
 
Muntjac
 
  • Muntjac mate throughout the year and give birth seven months later.
  • Unlike other deer, the bucks are fertile when growing new antlers.
  • Adult bucks pursue oestrous does. They are often seen with their noses down, following a doe’s scent trail.
  • When bucks fight, they click their cheek teeth, scrape the ground, parallel walk, then turn and use their long pedicles (bony stalks around the antler base) and antlers to shove and twist their opponents, trying to throw them off-balance.
  • Their canine tusks are then used to slash the opponent’s neck, face and ears. The loser may also be slashed on his rump as he retreats.

 

Roe
 
  • Roe deer rut in July and August, when bucks are territorial.
  • Oestrous does make soft, bird-like calls and entice bucks to chase them.
  • Bucks chase does for a long time, making hoarse, rasping grunts.
  • The chase often involves weaving round and round the same bushes, which makes conspicuous tracks in the grass.
  • Eventually the pace reduces, the gap shortens and the buck mounts the doe.
 
Red
 
  • Of all the deer you can see in the UK, red deer most often form harems, with one large stag and several hinds.
  • Stags often appear very dark from wallowing in their own urine – the odour helps bring hinds into oestrus.
  • The biggest stags hold harems in the middle of the rut, when most of the hinds are in oestrus.
  • Smaller stags on the edge of the harem try to mate with the hinds when the dominant stag is in battle or exhausted following a fight.
  • Rival stags roar then parallel walk to assess their opponent’s size and strength. They may also thrash the ground so that vegetation caught up in their antlers makes them look larger.
  • Fights are a shoving match, with each stag trying to gain the advantage by being uphill.
 
Sika
 
  • Rutting stags make a characteristic high-pitched whistle, which is audible over large distances.
  • Mature stags are often territorial, marking their stands by scoring trees with antlers and thrashing vegetation.
  • Stags also pursue oestrous hinds and may form harems as red deer do.
 
Chinese water
 
  • Peak rutting time is November to January. The only species of deer that has several fawns – up to seven, but four is most frequent.
  • Rival bucks approach each other with a stiff gait, followed by parallel walking. If one buck runs, the other pursues it making a clicking noise with his cheek teeth.
  • The only male deer without antlers. Bucks fight by dancing round each other, trying to slash faces and ears with their large canine tusks.
  • Bucks pursuing oestrous does make plaintive whistles. 

 

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