• Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

    The Sika Deer is not native to the UK, it was brought from Japan in the 19th century and since then a wild population has become established from escaped or released animals. The exact origins of the UK population of Sika are hard to identify, over 50 cases of imported animals are known, but there are few details about where they came from or which sub-species they were. It is most likely that the founding population were from Japan, Manchuria and Formosa and that genetically they belonged mainly to the Japanese sub-species. The Sika is very closely related to the native Red Deer and this has led to inter-breeding between the two populations over the years. This began in areas where the two species shared habitat, but as the hybrids mix with both populations, the range of hybridisation is growing.

    Key Facts

    Males - Stag
    Females - Hind
    Young - Calf

    Life Expectancy – Up to 18 years in the wild (20 in captivity)

    Key Features

    • Spotted summer coat and uniformly grey winter coat.
    • Pure white rump patch all year round with black border extending down hocks.
    • Short white tail with thin black line down centre.
    • Prominent rectangular, white metatarsal glands.
    • Wide forehead, short face and sharply pointed muzzle.
    • White frown mark across brow.
    • Shorter ears (than Red Deer) with broad lobes and dark spot inside.

    Where Sika Deer can be found

    Sika are most commonly found in Scotland, where they have a large population spread over the North and West, with some in the Borders and Central Scotland. Their territory is gradually increasing in Scotland, for example into Dumfriesshire, though in areas where there are both Sika and Red Deer, there are also some hybrids. The hybrids can be found mainly in Great Glen and on the Kintyre Peninsula. Sika are also present in Cumbria, Lancashire, the New Forest and Dorset, with some small herds in Kent and East Anglia.


    The Sika has a different coat in the summer and winter. In summer (from May/June onwards), the coat is a rich chestnut with off-white spots. The spots are usually arranged in horizontal lines, often with a row of spots either side of the dorsal stripe. The neck is a greyer colour and the belly shows strong counter-shading with light cream or white hair. The Sika has a black dorsal stripe, starting at the top of the neck and finishing at the tip of the tail. The rump and tail are bright white with hairs, which raise to give an alarm signal. The white area is edged with black and the black hairs can often extend down the legs as far as the hock. The Sika’s tail looks somewhere between that of the Red and the Fallow Deer’s. When compared to the Red Deer the Sika has a longer and more bristly tail, whereas, it is shorter and less bristly than the Fallow deer’s tail. The Sika’s ears are also shorter than the Red Deer’s and have a dark spot inside.
    The Sika’s winter coat is somewhere between grey and black, with the stags’ showing darker than the hinds’. No spots are present. The belly is still comparatively lighter and the rump remains bright white. The chin is often white and a V shaped mark can be seen on the forehead. The glands on the metatarsals are also clearly seen as long white stripes. The stag develops a thick shaggy mane during the rut and at this time the glands on the stag’s face also shed white tears.
    The coat of the Sika Deer’s calves are spotted as they are born in the spring time, and like the adults they moult into winter coats by the end of the year.


    The Sika Deer is smaller than the Red Deer, though like the Reds, the stag is larger than the hind. The size of both stags and hinds is also affected by their habitat, and those from poorer, colder highlands are smaller than those from the richer lowlands. A hind will reach maximum weight in three years and a stag in five years.

    Males Females Young
    Height (woodland) Up to 95cm Up to 85cm
    Live Weight (woodlands) Up to 70+kg Up to 40+kg At birth 3-5kg


    The hinds and stags only tend to associate during rutting season, most of the year they remain with other members of the same sex or wander alone - in the case of the hinds, with just their calves. In the winter, the hinds and their calves may join up to form herds. Sika Deer are most often active at night, preferring to seek dense cover in daylight hours.


    The rutting behaviour of the Sika Deer is quite variable and depends on the population size and density. The most common behaviour is for the stags to establish a territory that covers the trails made by the hinds as they move between their feeding and lying-up grounds. The stags patrol their domains and define the boundaries with urine and other marking methods such as thrashing trees and creating scrapes. The stags will approach any receptive hind and attempt to mate her within their own territories, or even follow her further afield. The stag will also guard his ground against rival stags.
    Sometimes the stags do not establish marked territories, instead defending a small group of hinds with which they mate. This is usually seen when there is a high proportion of hinds available. There is also evidence of the stags sometimes forming collections of small rutting stands where they will compete and the victors seek to mate receptive hinds. This seems to be caused by a high population density and/or significant disruption to the normal conditions.
    Sika Deer are very productive, with a high proportion of hinds successfully mating even in adverse conditions. Each hind will bear one calf each year, yearling calves often mate and conceive and even hind calves have been known to breed.


    The stag is responsible for most of the Sika calls heard. During the rut the stags can be heard to make a repetitive rising or falling whistling call. They can also produce a long moaning call during the rut that finishes in a grunt. You are most likely to hear the Sika stags at night and in stormy weather. Stags also use their voice in asserting their position in the herd, chasing lesser stags off with grunts, snorts and bleats.
    Hinds are less noisy, but can sometimes be heard bleating quietly to their calves, who call back similarly. Hinds can also squeal in alarm or defence.


    The number of points on a Sika stag’s antlers is dependent on its age. The first set of antlers begins to grow at around six months old. In the second year, a two point head will be grown and in the second and third year between four and six points is usual. The fourth set will have around eight points. The angle of the points is more acute than those in the Red Deer, and there is an absence of bey tines.
    The stags will keep their antlers until spring time, by which point they may look very white and have long since lost their velvet, which is shed in August or September. The Sika Deer is more likely to show damaged or deformed antlers than the Red Deer.
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