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 Roe deer, roebuck  (Capreolus capreolus )



Young Roe, born between late May and early June, are called kids or sometimes fawns. At birth, Roe kids have a dark brown coat which is heavily spotted with two distinct lines of white spots running from the nape of the neck either side of the dorsal to the rump. The sides and flanks are also spotted in white. The spots soon begin to fade and are usually gone in about 8-10 weeks. The kids then develop their first winter coat.

By September/October Roe are in full winter pelage. Their coat colour ranges from dark brown to charcoal grey. The rump hairs or caudal patch, erectile when the animal is alarmed, is white and far more prominent in winter pelage. The caudal patch is important in identifying the sexes during the winter when the bucks are re-growing their antlers. The does have a distinctive downward pointing tuft of hair at the base of the caudal patch referred to as an anal tush, which gives the appearance of an ace of spades. Bucks do not have this distinguishing feature and their caudal patch resembles a kidney shape. The winter coat is shed from April to May, younger animals changing first. Whilst the winter coat is being shed, Roe take on a moth-eaten and unkempt appearance as their coat falls out in chunks, usually starting around the neck, revealing the summer coat underneath.

The summer coat of both male and female is chestnut red although it can vary to a sandy yellow. Occasionally an animal with a darker, black or piebald pelage is seen although this is uncommon. It is often the unfortunate individual with a different or unusual pelage that ends up being taken as a ‘unique’ sporting trophy.

Roe have a very short tail, which is not visible without close physical examination and is an important distinguishing feature of the species. Both bucks and does are marked on the face with a white spot on the upper lip either side of the nose and the chin is also white. This coloration is more prominent in younger animals. 

 As ageing takes place, an increasing amount of grey develops around the muzzle and the hair on the forehead becomes curly, giving bucks an ‘old man’ appearance. The study of variegation (different colouring) of a Roe’s head and face can be used as an aid to ageing under field conditions.


Roe deer are unusual amongst British deer in that they cast and re-grow their antlers in the winter when good food is scarce; other species develop their antlers over spring and summer. Buck kids develop a small knob (or button) on top of their pedicle during the first nine months of life. This knob is shed in early spring and the first antler begins to grow. Occasionally if habitat conditions have been favourable, a strong young buck may develop a classic six-point head in its first year. However, a four-point head or even just two spikes would be the norm.

During its development, the growing antler is covered in a grey furry membrane known as velvet. This carries the blood vessels and nerves for the developing antler; the antler is bone growing on the outside of the body from the pedicles unlike horns, which are hollow and not cast each year. Should the velvet become damaged during the antlers’ growth, deformities can occur. The antlers are usually fully developed between March and April (earlier in older animals), when the increasing length of daylight causes a rise in testosterone levels. This causes the blood supply to the antler to be cut off. The velvet dries out, shrinks and is removed by the buck fraying its new antlers against saplings. During the period that the velvet is being removed, the buck is said to be ‘in tatters’ with dried velvet hanging in strips from the now hard antler. Whilst removing the velvet, damage is caused to young trees as the buck frays. It is whilst the buck is fraying saplings that the antlers become stained and coloured with tannin and sap from the bark, which changes the colour from white bone to a deep burnished brown. In areas with few trees like Salisbury Plain, antler colour is much paler due to lack of bark staining. It is the older bucks who clean their antlers first in readiness for spring.

From April onwards mature bucks begin to mark out their territories. Trees are now frayed for a different reason. This is boundary scent marking; scent from the preorbital gland is deposited onto the wet sapwood under the bark. This second fraying causes significantly more damage than the cleaning of velvet. It is considered good management policy to leave a territorial buck to dominate a new plantation and act as a policeman against questing bucks seeking territories. Removal of a stand buck often results in an influx of younger males resulting in much frustrated fraying and considerable damage. Frayed herbage normally has a V-shaped scrape at its base which is made by the buck with its front hooves. This will also be scent-marked by secretions from the interdigital glands situated between the cleaves of the deer’s hooves.

Animals still in velvet in June may well have been injured or might be unwell for some reason. There is a condition in Roe which can lead to the development of what is known as a Perruque Head. This is normally caused by damage to a buck’s testicles which prevents the rise in testosterone which would normally signal the cessation of the blood supply to the antlers’ velvet. Consequently with a perruque the velvet continues to grow, forming a soft spongy mass which does not harden. This eventually becomes infected or fly blown and may result in the animal’s death.

The typical European Roe buck grows two, three point antlers consisting of a brow point, a top point and a back point. The base of the antler is called the coronet or burr and grows from the pedicle. The coronet increases with size as the animal ages, sometimes growing together (coalescing) in older animals. The beam of the antler is covered in tiny bony nodules called pearling. Antler development in Roe is dependent on food supply and age. A mature animal in poor condition will only produce a small head. If conditions are better the following year then a fine head may be grown. The average length for European Roe antlers is between 20-30cm. The bucks shed their antlers between October and December, the older bucks shedding first. New growth starts almost immediately. Older bucks can be identified from their antlers as the coronets begin to droop (like melting candle wax) and they angle forward losing their crisp right angle to the pedicle. The tines lose their well developed shape, becoming less sharp, and sometimes there is slight palmation at the joint of tine and beam. A buck in this condition is termed as ‘going back’. Occasionally very old does will develop pedicles and sometimes small antlers; this is an hormonal imbalance due to old age.


Roe are herbivores and a highly adaptable species found in a wide variety of habitats, ranging from open moor to thick cover in conifer or deciduous woodland. Features that must be present whatever the habitat are shelter and a variety of food plants. The ideal habitat could be considered as coppice and pockets of deciduous woodland on land that is not intensely farmed, this linked by thick hedgerows and dotted with small copses. Roe are  predominantly selective browsers, however they also graze, feeding on shoots, herbs, grasses, fruits, nuts, fungi, pine needles and twiggy browse during hard times. Roe are opportunistic feeders with a liking for the exotic as many gardeners have discovered. They can decimate rose beds and low hanging baskets as well as vegetable gardens given the chance. The feeding cycle of Roe is the same as with other British deer. Being ruminants they feed in bouts followed by periods lying up to chew regurgitated cud. However the digestive system of the Roe is simpler than that of other species and this causes food to pass through the alimentary tract relatively quickly. In turn this necessitates more frequent feeding bouts depending upon the quality and quantity of food available. Should the animals feel secure then it is not unusual for them to lie where they have fed.

Roe feed heavily during the spring and summer months, building up reserves to see them over the winter - the bucks will have new antlers to grow and most does will have a pregnancy to carry to full term. During late autumn and winter, activity decreases due to a reduced metabolic rate (a form of semi-hibernation). If not disturbed they can refrain from feeding for longer periods than normal. If disturbed then food will be required to replenish expended energy and poor food quality at this time of year necessitates greater intake in order to extract sufficient nutrients.

Roe can be seen feeding at all times of the day depending on season and weather. The main times of activity are at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). If regularly disturbed they can become nocturnal, staying in close cover during daylight. Roe feeding in the open will head directly for cover if disturbed. Heavy rain and strong winds tend to suppress feeding activity and they will stay in cover. So a good time to find Roe feeding is after inclement weather as they quickly emerge to feed and dry off. Roe like to sunbathe and a sunlit clearing in cover will often be a favourite place to lie up.

The type of soil in an area plays a major roll in the expected lifespan of Roe. A deer lives as long as it is able to chew its food enough to extract essential nutrients. In areas of harsh gritty soil teeth wear away more quickly than in areas of soft loamy soil, the sand and grit acting as an abrasive on the teeth. Tooth wear is location specific and with local knowledge, wear is a good guide to a deer’s age. In young animals very little wear will be seen, but in very old animals the teeth may be worn down to gum level and like this the animal will eventually die from malnutrition. An accurate way of assessing the age of an animal in its first year is by examination of the third pre-molar tooth. At birth this milk tooth is divided into three crowns. This tooth is replaced by the permanent 2 crown pre-molar by the time the animal is 13 months of age and it will generally have less staining than the other teeth.

 Source: Internet
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