Resident in the UK since before the last Ice Age, the Roe Deer (capreolus capreolus) is our smallest native deer species. Forest clearance and over-hunting led to roe deer becoming extinct in England by 1800 but remained in wooded patches in Scotland. Several reintroductions during Victorian times and their subsequent, natural spread aided by an increase in woodland and forest planting in the 20th century has meant that roe deer have become widespread and abundant today.
Male - Buck
Female - Doe
Young - Kid
Life Expectancy – Up to 12 years in the wild.
Where can Roe Deer be found?
The distribution of Roe across the UK has varied across the centuries, with populations across the country diminishing and being re-introduced over time. The Roe Deer is found widely across the UK, from the isles and highlands of Scotland to the far South West of England. There are fewer Roe Deer in Wales and the Midlands, as these areas have never had Roe deliberately introduced. There is no Roe population in Ireland, having died out in the 19th century shortly after being introduced.
- Small, leggy graceful deer.
- Large, mobile, black-rimmed ears.
- Black muzzle with two white patches on upper lip and white chin.
- White caudal patch – prominent particularly when alarmed.
- Small sharp antlers with usually no more than six points.
- No visible tail but the doe displays a downward pointing tuft of hair – more prominent late in winter coat.
The summer coat is seen from late spring onwards and is a bright chestnut with pale counter-shading. The rump patch is a paler yellow colour and broader in the does than the bucks. There is no tail to speak of but the rump hair raises to show alarm. The hair also forms a tail-like ‘tush’ in the does, which is most easily seen in the winter coat. The Roe Deer has a short blunt face with a black muzzle and two white spots on the upper lip and a white chin. They have large mobile ears usually with a black outline.
The Roe Deer carries its winter coat from early autumn to late spring, the juveniles are the first to moult their coats in both seasons. The winter coat is thicker and more muted in colour, often darker too. In contrast the rump gets paler, almost white, and the belly remains pale. Pale patches known as ‘gorget’ may appear on the throat.
Kids are born with a russet coat flecked with off-white spots and markings. The white marks fade to leave a plain coat, which remains until the winter coat moults in.
Bucks and does are similar in size and weight, reaching around two feet in height at the shoulder – the deer have long legs, which can give them the illusion of being larger than they are. Again, larger deer will be found in better quality habitats.
|Height (woodland)||Up to 74cm||Up to 70cm|
|Height (uplands)||Up to 63cm||Up to 60cm|
|Live weight (woodland)||Up to 27+kg||Up to 22+kg||At birth 4-5kg|
|Live weight (uplands)||Up to 22kg||Up to 16kg||6-8kg at birth|
Roe Deer are usually seen alone or small family groups. Does can often be found with their kids and yearling does commonly take up with a buck in wintertime. Larger groups of Roe can be seen if there is a particularly good feeding ground, especially in the autumn when fat is being laid for winter.
The bucks mark their territories in springtime by creating scrapes and rubbing trees with their face glands to leave a scent. By early summer, the bucks become more territorial and defend their grounds more aggressively against other bucks. The boundaries are reinforced by the bucks rubbing bark off small trees and plants with their newly bare antlers. It is at this time that the does leave their last year’s kids to fend for themselves. Buck kids are generally chased away, but doe kids may be allowed to stay closer.
The peak of the rut arrives in July and August, when the bucks will court a doe by chasing her until she submits, this is repeated many times for as long as the doe is in oestrus. The doe will only be receptive for one or two days in the whole year so during this brief period, the urge to mate is very strong indeed. Roe does are different to other species because they do not have to fall in kid immediately after mating. They are able to delay the egg’s implantation in the womb for several months. This allows rutting early in the year, but stops the kids from being born until late in the next spring. Roe does may have as many as four kids, but two is the usual number. Kids are mature enough to mate in their second summer, but have been sometimes seen to mate in the first year if well developed. There is usually a small rise in the level of rutting behaviour among the young bucks in the autumn, probably caused by the doe kids’ adolescence.
Roe Deer make a repeated bark when suspicious, alarmed or when one buck is challenging another. These barks may be heard in quick succession from a fleeing Roe Deer. During the rut, bucks can make a breathy, raspy call and does make a soft fluty call. The kids and does find each other through squeaking to one another and this sound is sometimes used as a greeting between adults. If cornered and terrified, a scream may be heard from the deer.
The pattern of antlers seen in the Roe Deer is quite variable. Some buck kids develop small ‘button’ antlers in the first autumn; some develop these in the first full year instead of a true set. Yearling bucks can carry as many as six points on their antlers but most have a pair of single spikes, around four inches long. The development of the antlers is dependent on a good food supply as they are grown through the winter. The older bucks grow their antlers first and have often shed their velvet by early spring. They are also the first bucks to lose their antlers in the late autumn. Young bucks can still carry velvet into the early summer and shed their antlers later in the year. The most common antler conformation is three points on each antler, with a length of around ten inches in total. This varies widely though and many unusual formations have been seen.