This goat-sized deer is usually seen alone or in small family groups. The sandy red-brown coat in the summer turns greybrown in the winter. The distinctive white rump is shaped like an inverted heart in females (does), but more kidney-shaped in males (bucks). There is a short, white tail. The nose is black with a white chin patch. Adult bucks have short antlers of up to 25 cm with no more than three points. The lower part of the antler is has a knobbly covering (referred to as pearling).
Antlers are shed late in the winter and begin to regrow in January, the velvet being shed in early spring. During the winter moult the deer have a distinctly unkempt appearance. The young (kids) are marked with a dappling of white spots and black flecks for the first 6 weeks after birth. Most females give birth to twins.
© Philip Burtonwood
© David Chapman
Roe deer prefer open woodland but may be seen in fields when high densities are present. They browse on deciduous trees and shrubs in the summer, and heather, ivy, acorns, and conifers in the winter. Roe will also enter arable fields to graze on agricultural crops and weeds. Roe deer may visit gardens at night where they can cause considerable damage to plants and young trees.
The newly-grown antlers of the male are covered with a layer of skin, called velvet, which is shed once the antlers are fully grown. Males can damage young trees by their vigorous rubbing of their antlers whilst removing this velvet. In late spring bucks establish breeding territories which they scent mark with secretions from glands on the forehead and feet. Although most territorial defence is ritualised barking, stamping and butting, deaths may occur in extreme cases. Bucks mate with females within their territories. Roe deer mate earlier than other deer in
Britain – in July and August. They are unusual in that the fertilised egg is not implanted in the uterus for 3 months and the calves, or kids, are born in May or June. Twins are common. The kids can walk within an hour but usually remain hidden in undergrowth for the first week of their lives. The doe with her young may then rejoin the buck and stay as a family group until the young are driven away in the winter. Roe deer may live for up to 16 years but bucks rarely survive more than 5 years, and does 7 years.
Foxes, and eagles where present, will kill young roe deer. Many are killed each year in collisions with vehicles and many die in harsh winters. Hunting for meat and to control forestry and agricultural losses also removes large numbers each year.
The deer’s tracks, or slots, are up to 45 mm long and 30 mm wide and are sharply pointed compared to those of sheep or goats. Droppings are 10-14 mm long and 7-10 mm wide with the characteristic deer shape – pointed at one end and
rounded at the other. They may be individual or in large
clumps and closely resemble those of sheep. During the rutting season the bucks mark territories by fraying young trees with their antlers. They may also wear circular or figure-of-eight tracks while chasing does at these mating sites.
© Philip Burtonwood
Field surveys for tracks and signs. Traffic casualty monitoring. Deer management
returns. Hunt returns.
In 2010 a roe deer buck was rescued by the RSPCA at Porthgwarra Cove after struggling onto the rocks from the sea. Two years later another roe deer buck was lifted aboard HMS Sutherland after it was seen stuggling to swim in Plymouth Sound.
Did you know?:
The Latin name of the roe deer, Capreolus, means little goat. Although roe deer have been native to the UK since the Pleistocene they became virtually extinct in the 1800s and most of the current stock is the offspring of re-introductions.
Roe deer are widespread and well recorded from across Cornwall, with a strong focus on the centre and east of the county. More recent records show that they have spread into the far west and the Lizard. Roe deer are absent from the Isles of Scilly. Roe deer occur over much of Europe and closely related forms are found eastwards to China, Korea and Siberia.
Roe deer are protected under the Deer Act, 1991. They are believed to be common and increasing with an estimated population of 580,000 animals in the UK (DeerInitiative figures 2009).