Roe Deer

(Capreolus capreolus)

The Roe is the smallest of our truly native deer and the next numerous in the New Forest after Fallow. Their population in the Forest is around 400.  Roe have been present in Britain since around 10,000 BC. Forest clearance and over-hunting led to Roe deer becoming extinct in England by 1800 but they remained in Scotland. The Victorians made re-introductions in various parts of the country and their subsequent, natural migratory spread has meant that roe deer have become widespread again today.

The males (bucks) are 60 to 75cm at shoulder and the females (does) are slightly smaller. In summer their pelage is reddish brown and in the winter it turns grey or pale brown. They are small & elegant creatures with a white rump patch which they puff up when alarmed to make themselves look larger. They have a black nose and a white chin. Whilst they can live to 16 years, bucks rarely exceed 5 years and does 6 to 7 years. There is usually heavy mortality after birth each winter.

Their antlers are much smaller than the other main species and generally less than 30cm long with a maximum of three spikes. Their antlers are cast in November each year as their rut is much earlier than the other species.

Woodlands or farmland providing permanent cover are preferred as habitat but roe are increasingly found on open moorland and in urban /suburban gardens where they are fond of browsing on young tender shoots, particularly roses! They are primarily selective browsers and thrive best in woodland habitats offering diversity in food types including herbs, brambles, ivy, heather and tree shoots. Roe deer are active throughout the 24-hour period but tend make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness. Like most other species, their peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk with long periods are spent lying up to ruminate. Roe are normally seen in small family groups or as single animals. Bucks are mostly solitary whereas does will be accompanied by their young (kids) for most of the year.  Both sexes may bark as an alarm call throughout the year. Does communicate to their kids using ‘ squeaks and make a high-pitched piping call to advertise their readiness to mate.

The rut takes place from mid-July to mid-August. Bucks become aggressive and defend exclusive territories around one or more does prior to this period. Does do not maintain exclusive territories but live within overlapping home ranges. Males usually mate with several females and courtship involves chasing between the buck and doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate. This chasing activity, usually around trees, creates distinctive rings which are clearly visible on the ground – these are known as “roe rings”.  Although mating occurs during July/August the fertilised egg does not implant and grow until January with twins, or sometimes triplets, born in May and June. This method of delayed egg implantation avoids giving birth during harsh winters.

View the British Deer Society – Roe Deer Distribution Survey

Roe Deer bark