Fallow leks

sharkey

Well-Known Member
I've been on here for a few years now & can't recall much discussion on leking behaviour of fallow deer. I've read plenty about them becoming a pest, causing crop damage, vehicle collisions & about the price per pound, but not much on this breeding strategy which Dama start to employ when the population begins to reach a reasonable density. Has anyone witnessed a true lek, or leking behaviour in fallow deer in the UK?

Sharkey
 

sharkey

Well-Known Member
Care to describe the situation, 10, 20 30 or more bucks in what size area? What sort of protection/management were the deer afforded to allow such densities?

Sharkey
 

Monkey Spanker

Well-Known Member
I think it is fair to say it happens with all Fallow despite the density. The only difference is that in a high density environment, a master buck will have an established rutting stand, then surrounding him will be a ring of satellite stands of lesser bucks. The does then have to 'run the gauntlet' so to speak to try and get in to the master buck. Some of the younger bucks will invariably get lucky!
MS
 

countrryboy

Well-Known Member
Never heard it called 'lekking' before.

Is that wot u call the rut in Oz? I know in NZ tend to call it the roar.
 

jubnut

Well-Known Member
Lekking can be very dependent on what the year has been like for natural food.

I have found that in a year where there is a lot of mast, acorns or chestnuts the bucks will hold a stand there because the does are there feeding. He will hold that stand for the duration of the rut if he's a big master buck. You can shoot smaller bucks off his stand in the morning and come back that evening and he'll be back. Whereas if it is a poor year food wise you see much less lekking behaviour, you cant rely on bucks holding a stand, although you will still get a bit of burping.

I would say that in my experience rather than finding a stand and drawing does to it by grunting a big buck will find does and then start grunting. I think lekking is more dependant on the does than the bucks.
 
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biffo

Well-Known Member
I think it is fair to say it happens with all Fallow despite the density. The only difference is that in a high density environment, a master buck will have an established rutting stand, then surrounding him will be a ring of satellite stands of lesser bucks. The does then have to 'run the gauntlet' so to speak to try and get in to the master buck. Some of the younger bucks will invariably get lucky!
MS
Average nightclub in Essex on a Saturday night.
 

sharkey

Well-Known Member
Never heard it called 'lekking' before.

Is that wot u call the rut in Oz? I know in NZ tend to call it the roar.
No mate.

When the population density of bucks gets beyond a point many of the bucks start lekking behaviour. Typically a lek will be 2/3 of the way up to the top of a small hill with a good aspect over a feeding area/home range of the does. It may be as large as 3 acres with 40 or 50 bucks establishing one or more scrapes in this area. The does will visit the lek & although they may show promiscuous behaviour they still are able to choose & stand for the buck they select. It is believed that it improves sexual selection for this species.

If the density is low then they won't lek & will just form several scrapes (stands) & these may be a few meters or several hundred meters apart. With this strategy the buck will roam more & actively seek the does rather than the inverse. This requires more effort, increases risk from predation & sees fewer does filled by the master bucks & more by subordinates.

I just assumed that given the comments by some of high fallow populations in parts of the UK that there may be a few leks about & some may have experienced these during the rut. If you have seen, smelt & heard one, you will not forget it soon. I know of two leks in Australia which occur each year. Both of these are on private property & the deer are managed as a hunting resource. The odd lek will occur here & there if the localised population erupts, but most land owners/managers can't or won't tolerate the densities of deer needed to support a lek, so they are rare.

Several species of antelope will also lek, but its nowhere near as spectacular as a fallow lek if one gets going.

Sharkey
 

countrryboy

Well-Known Member
Never heard of that before and was just checking it wasnae a language thing ;) Would be some sight to see

I run a shoot on an estate with very high numbers of fallow but i'd be amazed (no doubt about to be proved wrong) in anywhere in the uk has a large enough population and density esp when ur talking of groups of 30+ bucks.
Not unusual to see 100 does or does and some bucks in groups at places but usually the buck groups are much smaller, usually 15-20 but often split up around the rut to form stands like u say.

Wot sort of density do u need to start this behavior 100+ per sq km?
 

sharkey

Well-Known Member
Sorry mate. I've sent some time on a reply only to loose it to the "iterweb?
I'll try to post something again when the blood pressure recedes.

Cheers
Sharkey
 

sharkey

Well-Known Member
Wot sort of density do u need to start this behavior 100+ per sq km?
Density less than half that would suffice. A deer to five acres, on a several thousand acre property where the deer are given some value, & management means more than just shooting numbers could see one start. Leks won't work unless there are enough dominant old bucks which have "learnt" how to behave in leks in their teenage years. Not all bucks will lek even if given the opportunity, however the ones who have entered a lek as teenagers & learnt the game will usually continue to do so & be the best performers if they reach maturity. Does also teach the promiscuous or "teasing" behaviour which they perform at leks to their daughters. In the end it is the does choice who she stands for & its usually the most dominant bucks which are chosen in a lek.

Yes I am discussing some learnt behaviour. The ability to scrape & lek is wired into the genetic memory of Dama, however to be the most successful both the sexes require some learnt experience at a lekking through their teen years. Thus a lek which has been used continually over generations will see the true peak in lekking & mating behaviour in fallow deer. A true lek & the associated behaviour is not something that just starts overnight it requires experienced animals. It is not to be confused with solitary scrapes or stands which are close to each other, it is the crescendo of D dama's breeding behaviour, in an ideal environment. It will take a few ruts to build to the crescendo when leks are first started.

All the above refers to D dama, I have never heard it mentioned & have only seen solitary scrapes/stands in D mesopotamica. They certainly share scrapes & open them within meters of each other, but not true lekking behaviour. However this not surprising as the populations are still so low. There certainly are some differences in the breeding strategies of both species, the most noticeable so far being the vocalisations & aggression of the bucks. On my own place the females are also more vocal than D dama & also tail flag much more frequently (the tail flagging could just be increased alertness as D meso aren't domesticated like the D dama) It will be interesting to watch to see if the Persians do start to form leks as the population increases in the extant & ex situ populations around the world.

Sharkey
 

Harry Hirsch

Well-Known Member
Hi Sharkey,
It seems that some researchers believe that lekking also reduces aggression amongst bucks when the population density is high.
I own 120 acres of ancient woodland which adjoins 2000 acres of FC broadleaf woodland and during the rut there are probably 50+ bucks (all age groups) around. There are numerous scrapes throughout the woodland, some of which are close together but I think it would be almost impossible to find out if they are lekking or just holding stands without having 24 hour camera surveilance of the area. How else can you get close enough to them without them moving away?
One really interesting thing you mentioned which, although I have seen it so many times, I never realised before you said it, is that leks are typically 2/3 of a way up a hill. Well, lek or rutting stand, they all seem to be on the side of a hill, never on top of the hill and never low down but mostly over half way to the top. I can only assume this to be some kind of defense stategy, although what exactly I don't know. If it were purely to achieve a good aspect over the feeding area and does, then you'd think that the top of the hill would be better ???
 
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sharkey

Well-Known Member
Hi Sharkey,
It seems that some researchers believe that lekking also reduces aggression amongst bucks when the population density is high.
I own 120 acres of ancient woodland which adjoins 2000 acres of FC broadleaf woodland and during the rut there are probably 50+ bucks (all age groups) around. There are numerous scrapes throughout the woodland, some of which are close together but I think it would be almost impossible to find out if they are lekking or just holding stands without having 24 hour camera surveilance of the area. How else can you get close enough to them without them moving away?
One really interesting thing you mentioned which, although I have seen it so many times, I never realised before you said it, is that leks are typically 2/3 of a way up a hill. Well, lek or rutting stand, they all seem to be on the side of a hill, never on top of the hill and never low down but mostly over half way to the top. I can only assume this to be some kind of defense stategy, although what exactly I don't know. If it were purely to achieve a good aspect over the feeding area and does, then you'd think that the top of the hill would be better ???
Yes "swamping" aggression.

If a lek does get going you won't have too much trouble getting close enough to hear & smell it, even with all those eyes & noses. I guess you could brake the party up with a rifle, but they will be back soon if the hunter can show some restraint. I struggle with the thought that any deer hunter would deny themselves one of the greatest experiences of the natural world by "bombing up" a lek? There will also be plenty of solitary bucks close by which choose not to enter the lek to take instead.

Being 2/3 of the way up gives them the best utility. It gives some security, its prominent & presents better, & the rising air currents contains all sorts of useful information for them. If I'm in a new area I usually start 2/3 the way up a hill when looking for buck/stag sign ( sambar, red, fallow, not chital or rusa).

Sharkey
 

Harry Hirsch

Well-Known Member
Interesting point about the air currents, as presumably the wind at the top of the hill could "blow away" much of the information gained lower down. I'll certainly remember that one.
After once making the mistake of shooting a good buck during the rut, which unless you are a trophy hunter, which I am not, is the total waste of a good animal, I no longer shoot any deer during the October rut and prefer to wait until November for does and lesser bucks which may not be so exhausted from the rut. The good bucks I protect year round, even though they literally seem to disappear for months on end. Being next to the FC on one side where any deer is fair game to their stalkers and a Woodland Trust woods and another private woods on the other side where zero shooting takes place is quite interesting.
The woods I am talking about go back thousands of years and are not commercial timber woodlands, the fallow have been there probably since Norman or even Roman times. During the rut the whole woods is alive with belching bucks and the air is full of musty buck odour/perfume/stink. I know exactly where the main rutting stand is, its been there for generations but whether this constitutes lekking or just normal rutting, I am not sure. There is some clashing of heads during the rut but given the density of bucks, the majority seem to coexist and tolerate one another. Lekking??
 
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sharkey

Well-Known Member
It sounds like you have a doe range. The bucks will disappear for over 6 months of the year & form bachelor herds but return to the doe range for the rut. The youngest boys return first & the older boys last (just in time. Oestrus in the girls is day length determined, as is the antler cycle in the boys). If I had to choose between owning a doe or a bachelor range I'd choose the doe range every time.

This is sounding interesting. Do the girls visit the scrapes/stands rather than the bucks pursuing them relentlessly? Are the boys more interested in croaking as an advertisement rather than just when they are chasing off a subordinate? Are the bucks relatively tolerant of each other & several able to croak simultaneously just a few yards apart without a sparring match? Are the does making the final selection of which buck to stand for, or are they being chased & pursued into submission? Give it some thought as to wether you think you are seeing several "solitary" bucks opening scrapes/stands in a close area or if its one large group of bucks acting in an interrelationship.

Sharkey
 

Harry Hirsch

Well-Known Member
Well, it's a bit of everything. I'll try to give a few examples of recent behaviour seen within the last few weeks i.e. 4 months after the rut.

The majority of fallow seen are does often grouped in age groups i.e. several barren old does together, groups of younger does of presumably good breeding age of up to 20-25 together, often with pricket bucks mixed in.

Several major bucks with large palmations sometimes with a group of does in attendance, sometimes solitary.

A herd of lesser bucks of older than sorels but less than majors of about 15 together.

One rutting scrape found which was obviously still being used by deer for some function but by whom we don't know.

Now, to go back to the rut, the major rutting stand was occupied by a very large buck who spent almost all day on the stand belching with does in attendance.

In another part of the woods I was almost run over by 2 does who had presumably been chased by a buck. (Luckily for me they saw me and turned at the last moment).

Due to the geography of the region, I do not believe that the bucks really disappear all together, rather that they are very hard to spot when solitary or in pairs.
 
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Harry Hirsch

Well-Known Member
On reflection, I think that what is mostly happening is that solitary bucks are on the stands but that groups of lesser bucks may be outlying these stands. It seems only to be the majors who are the most vocal.
I am not aware of us ever seeing groups of majors bucks together, they are either with does or solitary. It is the lesser bucks (sorel and older) that make up groups.
 

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