Roe deer

Roe deer
Male (buck) and female (doe) roe deer
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Synapsida
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae
Subfamily: Capreolinae
Genus: Capreolus
Species: C. capreolus
Binomial name
Capreolus capreolus
(Linnaeus, 1758)[2]
Range of Capreolus capreolus

The European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), also known as the western roe deer, chevreuil, or simply roe deer, is an Eurasian species of deer. The male of the species is sometimes referred to as a roebuck. The roe deer is relatively small, reddish and grey-brown, and well-adapted to cold environments. The species is widespread in Europe, from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia and from Britain to the Caucasus. It is distinct from the somewhat larger Siberian roe deer.

Within Europe, the European roe deer occurs in most areas, with the exception of northernmost Scandinavia (north of Narvik) and some of the islands, notably Iceland, Ireland, and the Mediterranean Sea islands; in the Mediterranean region, it is largely confined to mountainous regions, and is absent or rare at low altitudes. Scottish roe deer were introduced to the Lissadell Estate in Co. Sligo in Ireland around 1870 by Sir Henry Gore-Booth, Bt.[3] The Lissadell deer were noted for their occasional abnormal antlers and survived in that general area for about 50 years before they died out, and no roe deer currently exist in Ireland.

In England and Wales, roe have experienced a substantial expansion in their range in the latter half of the 20th century and continuing into this century. This increase in population also appears to be affecting woodland ecosystems.[4] At the start of the 20th century, they were almost extinct in Southern England, but since then have hugely expanded their range for no apparent reason and possibly in some cases with human help. In 1884, roe were introduced from Württemberg in Germany into the Thetford Chase area, and these spread to populate most of Norfolk, Suffolk, and substantial parts of Cambridgeshire. In southern England, they started their expansion in Sussex (possibly from enclosed stock in Petworth Park) and from there soon spread into Surrey, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Dorset, and for the first half of the 20th century, most roe in southern England were to be found in these counties. By the end of the 20th century, they had repopulated much of Southern England and had expanded into Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Lincolnshire, and South Yorkshire, and had even spread into mid-Wales from the Ludlow area where an isolated population had appeared. At the same time, the surviving population in Scotland and the Lake District had pushed further south beyond Yorkshire and Lancashire and into Derbyshire and Humberside. Now, roe can be found in most of rural England except for south east Kent and the greater part of Staffordshire and Cheshire, although the expansion is continuing to the extent that before the end of this century, anywhere in the UK mainland suitable for roe may have a population.[5] Not being a species that needs large areas of woodland to survive, urban roe are now a feature of several cities, notably Glasgow and Bristol, where in particular they favour cemeteries. In Wales, they are less common, but have been seen as far south west as Cardigan and as far north west as Bangor, and they are reasonably well established in Powys and Monmouthshire.

German colonial administrators introduced roe deer to the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. They are hunted by locals in very steep and heavily vegetated terrain. The meat is openly sold in markets and restaurants in Kolonia, the capital city of Pohnpei and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Roe deer were introduced also to Australia.[6]

The roe deer is distinct from the somewhat larger Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus) found from the Ural Mountains to as far east as China and Siberia. The two species meet at the Caucasus Mountains, with the European species occupying the southern flank of the mountain ranges and adjacent Asia Minor, and the Siberian species occupying the northern flank of the mountain ranges.

It is known that there are roe deer that live in the Red Forest near Chernobyl.[7]

Physical appearance

Roe deer in a grassland area

The roe deer is a relatively small deer, with a body length of 95–135 cm (3.1–4.4 ft), a shoulder height of 65–75 cm (2.1–2.5 ft), and a weight of 15–35 kg (33–77 lb).[8] It has rather short, erect antlers and a reddish body with a grey face. Its hide is golden red in summer, darkening to brown or even black in winter, with lighter undersides and a white rump patch; the tail is very short (2–3 cm or 0.8–1.2 in), and barely visible. Only the males have antlers. The first and second set of antlers are unbranched and short (5–12 cm or 2.0–4.7 in), while older bucks in good conditions develop antlers up to 20–25 cm (8–10 in) long with two or three, rarely even four, points. When the male's antlers begin to regrow, they are covered in a thin layer of velvet-like fur which disappears later on after the hair's blood supply is lost. Males may speed up the process by rubbing their antlers on trees, so that their antlers are hard and stiff for the duels during the mating season. Unlike most cervids, roe deer begin regrowing antlers almost immediately after they are shed.

Habitat and diet

Roe deer tracks

The roe deer is primarily crepuscular, very quick and graceful, and lives in woods, although it may venture into grasslands and sparse forests. They feed mainly on grass, leaves, berries, and young shoots. They particularly like very young, tender grass with a high moisture content, i.e., grass that has received rain the day before. Roe deer will not generally venture into a field that has had or has livestock (sheep, cattle) in it because the livestock make the grass unclean. A pioneer species commonly associated with biotic communities at an early stage of succession, during the Neolithic period in Europe, the roe deer was abundant, taking advantage of areas of forest or woodland cleared by Neolithic farmers.[9]

Roe deer fawn, two to three weeks old

Behaviour and lifecycle

Roe deer, male and female in Segovia, Spain

The roe deer attains a maximum lifespan (in the wild) of 10 years. When alarmed, it will bark a sound much like a dog and flash out its white rump patch. Rump patches differ between the sexes, with the white rump patches heart-shaped on females and kidney-shaped on males. Males may also bark or make a low grunting noise. Females (does) make a high-pitched "pheep" whine to attract males during the rut (breeding season) in July and August. Initially, the female goes looking for a mate and commonly lures the buck back into her territory before mating. The roe deer is territorial, and whilst the territories of a male and a female might overlap, other roe deer of the same sex are excluded unless they are the doe's offspring of that year.


The polygamous roe deer males clash over territory in early summer and mate in early fall. During courtship, when the males chase the females, they often flatten the underbrush, leaving behind areas of the forest in the shape of a figure eight called 'roe rings'. Males may also use their antlers to shovel around fallen foliage and soil as a way of attracting a mate. Roebucks enter rutting inappetence during the July and August breeding season. Females are monoestrous and after delayed implantation usually give birth the following June, after a 10-month gestation period, typically to two spotted fawns of opposite sexes. The fawns remain hidden in long grass from predators; they are suckled by their mother several times a day for around three months. Roe deer adults often abandon their young if they sense or smell that an animal or human has been near it. Young female roe deer can begin to reproduce when they are around 16 months old.

The world-famous deer Bambi (the eponymous character of the books Bambi, A Life in the Woods, and its sequel Bambi's Children, by Felix Salten) is originally a roe deer. When the story was adapted into the animated feature film Bambi, by the Walt Disney Studios, Bambi was changed to a white-tailed deer. This change was made owing to the whitetail being a more familiar species to the mainstream US viewers. Consequently, the setting was changed to a North American wilderness.

See also


  1. Lovari, S.; Herrero, J.; Conroy, J.; Maran, T.; Giannatos, G.; Stübbe, M.; Aulagnier, S.; Jdeidi, T.; Masseti, M; Nader, I.; et al. (2008). "Capreolus capreolus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2008. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
  2. Linnæus, Carl (1758). Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I (in Latin) (10th ed.). Holmiæ (Stockholm): Laurentius Salvius. p. 78.
  3. The roe deer by Henry Tegner 1951
  4. Kinver, Mark (2013-01-01). "Roe deer numbers 'changing woodland ecosystems'". United Kingdom: BBC News Online. Retrieved 2013-01-02.
  6. "Capreolus capreolus". Atlas of Living Australia. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  7. Lavars, Nick (5 October 2015). "Deer, wolves and other wildlife thriving in Chernobyl exclusion zone". Gizmag.
  8. Macdonald, D.W.; Barrett , P. (1993). Mammals of Europe. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09160-9.
  9. Boyle, K.V. (2006), "The Roe Deer: Conservation of a Native Species", in Serjeantson, D; Field, D, Neolithic wild game animals in Western Europe: The question of hunting, Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 10–23, ISBN 978-1-84217-214-8

Further reading

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