Relatively small deer with comparatively short body to long legs and neck. Normally only one or two are seen together. Distinctive black nose and white chin. Red/brown fur in summer, grey/brown in winter. Very small tail, either not visible or appears as small tuft. Cream/white rump, inverted heart shape in females and oval shape in males. Small branched antlers in mature males, usually not more than 3 points.
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Roe deer footprints are very similar to those of fallow deer. Width 3cm, length 4.5cm. However, be very careful not confuse these with sheep or goat footprints.
Field signs alone are difficult to ascertain exactly which species are present. Direct sightings are not uncommon and are the most reliable deer records.
Deer droppings do not have obvious coloration or smell. The droppings tend to be of a similar shape across all species.
As seen in this photo, they can easily be confused with sheep droppings.
The best way to determine which deer species you have seen is by looking at the rump and tail. The roe deer has a cream white rump (an upside down heart for females and an oval shape for males) and has no visible tail.
Widespread in Scotland and much of England. Recently recolonised parts of Wales. (Maps are based on expert advice, as of 2007. Some species ranges may have changed in the time since. We are currently in the process of updating them.)
Primarily browsers rather than grazers (feed mostly on trees/shrubs rather than ground vegetation), selecting buds, shoots and leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs and certain herbs (forbs).
Most live 7 years, can be up to 16 years.
Fallow deer (Dama dama)
Heart-shaped white rump with a black horseshoe-shaped border and a black line down the tail, creating the appearance of the number 111. Roe has a plain cream/white rump (oval shape in males and upside down heart shape in females) which can be flared when alarmed, with no visible tail. Fallow coat can vary greatly but is typically brown with white spots in summer and paler brown with white spots in winter. Roe has red/brown coat in summer and grey/brown in winter, with no spots.Roe has a distinctive black nose and white chin, which fallow does not have. Antlers of fallow are large and palmate (broad and flattened) unlike small antlers of roe deer, with usually no more than 3 points. Fallow is much larger than roe.
Red deer (Cervus elaphus)
Red deer much larger than the roe. Buff coloured rump (not flared when alarmed as in roe deer) with a ginger buff tail. Grey/brown coat in winter to red/brown in summer. Roe has similar coat colour but red deer’s coat appears more red. Very large branched antlers in mature males, whilst roe have much smaller antlers with usually no more than 3 points. Roe also has distinctive black nose and white chin.
Sika deer (Cervus nippon)
Heart-shaped white rump with black upper border. White tail, with thin black vertical streak. Roe has plain cream/white rump (oval shape in males and upside down heart shape in females) with no visible tail. Sika has a brown coat with distinctive spots in summer only (which roe do not have) with coat turning greyer in winter. Roe has red/brown coat in summer and grey/brown in winter.Roe has a distinctive black nose and white chin which sika does not have. Male sika have larger, more outstretched antlers with typically more than 4 points per antler, whilst roe have much smaller antlers with usually no more than 3 points. See image.
Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Rump same colour as rest of coat and has a stumpy tail, whilst roe has cream/white rump (oval shaped in males and upside down heart shape in females), with no visible tail.
Chinese water deer has tusks (protruding upper canine teeth) whereas roe does not. Chinese water deer has no antlers. Roe has small pointed antlers, with no more than 3 points. It is often said that chinese water deer face looks like a teddy bear. Roe has distinctive black nose and white chin.
Chris Matcham says:
“The Red deer, Fallow and Sika are grazers (feed on ground vegetation) and these animals typically can be seen in fields and open spaces as they crop the grass. They are therefore very visible when they eat like this and, just like animals on the African plains, form herds as there is safety in numbers since, with heads down, they can’t so easily see predators approaching. Grass is not very nutritious so they just munch their way across the fields. Very often, one or two animals act as guards and don’t eat. Then the roles swap.
Roe and muntjac are not grazers, they browse the shoots from shrubs and other plants so are more likely to be found in scrub and woodland. Now, in woodland it pays to be solitary as a herd walking through a wood makes a lot of noise (I’ve seen/heard this in the New Forest) and this racket would both attract predators and, with all the crashing noise, make it difficult to hear them approaching. The more solitary roe and muntjac are able to walk quietly since they are also smaller. I know that reds and fallow also browse trees, hence the “browse line” on trees but this does tend to be at the woodland edge rather than deep in the forest. Curiously, on the plains of eastern Europe, roe have to graze more so form small herds when they feed on the open spaces.”