As Dorset’s most widespread deer species, you might be lucky enough to spot a roe deer or two tentatively emerging from woodlands or bounding across frosted fields this winter. But how much do you know about the lives of these mysterious wild mammals?
Roe deer live a mostly solitary life during the summer, but in winter they may come together and form small, loose groups. They are most active at dawn and dusk, and live in areas
of mixed countryside where they can be close to woodland, farmland, grassland and heathland. They eat buds and leaves from trees and shrubs, as well as ferns, grasses, brambles and heathers.
Is it a roe deer?
Be prepared to look out for the roe deer’s identifying features; if you do glimpse one, it may be on the move and disappear swiftly. They are a slender, medium- sized deer with short antlers (males) and no tail. Roe deer are mostly brown in colour, turning reddish in the summer and
darker slate grey in the winter, and you’re most likely to spot the flash of their pale buff rump as they dash away from you with dramatic leaps and bounds! Their eyes are large and black, and they have black noses and mouths, with large ears atop their heads and a white chin.
The animated Disney character Bambi is thought to have been based on a roe deer – roe deer fawns, just like the film’s title character, are born with white spots on their back and sides, which disappear with age.
A male’s antlers are quite small, typically have three points each and undergo a cycle of growth and re-growth that takes a full year. They begin to grow their antlers in November, shedding the velvet from them in the spring. By summer, they are
ready for the rutting season. After mating, they shed their antlers in October and begin
to grow a new set. Adult roe deer have no natural predators. However, their young can be taken by foxes.
If you don’t happen to spot a deer itself, you might spy some tracks left behind. Their hoof- prints will be around 4cm long – remarkably small for such a substantial animal (an adult roe deer can be up to 1.3 metres in length and 75cm in height) – and they tend to follow the same paths regularly.
To find out more about deer and more wildlife you might spot around Dorset at this time of year, visit dorsetwildlifetrust.org. uk.