Thursday, 8 January 2009

Nature Journal: Roe Deer

I live in the countryside in Sweden and we often have deer tracks in our garden in the winter but it isn't every day we see a whole family of deer stop for their breakfast outside our kitchen window which happened on December 8th, 2008.

This is the European Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus). It is a mammal that is found in most parts of Europe south west of the Caucasus Mountains. They are most commonly seen during the dawn and twilight hours. The Roe Deer is easy to recognize based on their distinctive white tales. The colour of the rest of the animal depends on the season. They are generally a light brown trecal colour in the summer with their coat going darker in the winter. As you can see from the picture above these animals definitely have a darker colour. The coat on top of the back is almost black. This causes them to blend very well with the pine trees that cover large portions of Sweden.

According to wikipedia (yes I know not the most reliable resource but bear with me for a sec) they prefer to live alone. I find this a very confusing statement because in Sweden it is the general rule of thumb when driving that if you see one deer there will be more. And as you can see from my pictures these deer were definitely travelling in a pack.

As you can see from this picture the deer are searching for food in our "medow". We leave this part of the garden to wild flowers in the summer. Roe Deer are herbivores prefering grasses and other types of ground veggitation. They also like shoots of holly and birch trees. And from personal experience I can say that they have a disturbing fondness for strawberry plants.

Based on the size of the animals in this grouping I wo
uld guess that it consisted of three femals and one male. It is also distincly possible that it was a family grouping with a male and female and their calves from this year. One of the animals was larger than the other three and it appeared that he still had his horns. Only the male Roe Deer grows horns and these fall off in the winter. This picture is rather blurry (I was trying to take pictures through the window without alerting them to my presence) but this is the larger of the deer. This was really noticable when one of the other deer came up close to this one. The reason I think this might be a family grouping was the differences in size between the animals when they were all walking on a line. I could see the difference in size between them and two were roughly the same size with the the other two being bigger, with one larger than the other. The Roe Deer are generally 95-135cm long, 63-74cm high at the shoulder and weigh between 18-29kg. They tend to be very skittish. I was surprised that they did not bolt when they heard me open the window to take pictures. They did leave when they heard me but first they collected themselves and they walked off in an orderly fashion. I thought it was quite interesting that they clearly walked on the road. It made a lot of sense to me since the snow was quite thick on the ground and it must have been much easier to walk on the road.

As previously stated the most common trace of the Roe Deer in our garden is their tracks. The Roe Deer have very small hoofs that make a distinctive print with two pads with a bridge inbetween. Right now the snow is to deep for me to be able to take a good picture of this but here is one that shows how they criss cross our garden. There are other tracks in this picture mainly the neighbours cat :D.

BBC Science & Nature
Forestry Commission

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