The Roe is one of our truly native deer, the other being the Red deer. Records of them date to before the Mesolithic period (6000 to 10000 years BC). We are fortunate to have a breeding population living on Otley Chevin and now is as good a time as any to try and spot one, as their rut (or breeding season) is in full swing. Bucks have become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around one or more does. Fights between bucks can result in serious injury or even death with the winner taking over the loser’s territory or attendant doe. Courtship involves chasing between the buck and doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate.
Roe deer are dainty creatures with large black eyes, nose and big ears. They have a body size a little smaller than a Labrador, but with long graceful legs. The males (bucks) sport small antlers, which have three points when fully grown. Roe deer vary in colour throughout the year, being most distinguishable now and throughout the summer when their coats are rusty red. In winter, their coats turn a dull, slate grey colour. Both sexes have a prominent white rump and appear to have no tail, as it is actually very small in comparison to other deer species.
Roe’s use well-worn paths across their range, leaving small hoof prints about 4 cm long in soft ground and small piles of faeces, the scat will usually be cylindrical with a dimple one end and a nipple on the other. The Buck will mark his territory by scraping at trees and laying scent from the glands in between their toes, whilst also frequently urinating to mark their territory. Roe deer are generally found in open mixed, coniferous or purely deciduous woodland, particularly at edges between woodland and open habitats, you can see why the Chevin Forest Park is ideal territory for them!
The Roe deer’s diet is varied and includes buds and leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, bramble, rose, ivy, herbs, conifers, ferns, heather and grasses. They eat buds and leaves from trees and shrubs, as well as ferns, grasses and heathers. One of their favourite foods is plentiful up on the Chevin, Beech nuts. Unfortunately, the eating habits of deer can sometimes have a negative impact on woodland ecosystems. By feeding on young trees, deer can prevent the natural growth of new woodland. Large numbers of deer can also eat plants that other wildlife, such as birds and insects, depend on for food and shelter. Historically, predators such as wolves and lynx would have kept deer numbers in check, limiting these impacts. Whilst the adults have no natural predators left; the young are occasionally taken by foxes.
Incredibly the doe has evolved a delayed implantation strategy, the roe deer is in fact the only hoofed animal in which delayed implantation occurs, so that the young are not born during the harsh winter months. Once fertilised by the buck, the doe keeps the egg in her overies until late December and then implant it to the womb and 5 months later the kids (usually two or three) are born in May/June, a time of plenty in terms of food. Young Roe deer make a high-pitched whistle to attract their mothers when they become lost.