A person who first sees the most common type of fallow deer may wonder why it never got rid of the white spots other deer have when they’re fawns then lose as they grow up. But a spotted, light brown coat with a black stripe that runs down the back to the tail is just one of the many types of colors the pelage of this wide-ranging deer can sport.
Some fallow deer are white, some are black, and many have what is called menil coloration. This means that the spots stand out more, and there is no black on the tail or the rump. The spots persist throughout the winter, while with the common coloration the coat turns gray and the spots fade. The deer’s hind legs are also longer than the front legs, and the male has a distinct Adam’s apple that bobs up and down when it calls.
The fallow deer is native to Europe and Asia minor and probably north Africa, and it’s been introduced in countries around the world as a game animal. It’s also raised for its meat and for the velvet on the male’s antlers, which is supposed to have health-giving properties. Many zoos have a small herd of fallow deer.
3 Incredible Fallow Deer Facts!
- Humans have been hunting fallow dear since the old Stone Age which occurred between 420,000 and 200,000 BC. Humans at the time not only ate the meat of the deer but its bone marrow.
- Over the centuries, it has been introduced around the world, including Australia, Canada, the United States, Madagascar, and South Africa and there are fairly large herds in England and Wales.
- There’s a herd found in Dublin’s Phoenix Park that’s descended from deer who lived in the park in the 17th century.
Fallow Deer Scientific name
The deer’s scientific name is Dama dama. Dama is simply the Latin word for deer and related species such as antelope. Fallow refers to the light brown color of the deer’s pelt. There are two subspecies of the fallow deer. They are:
- Dama dama dama, the European fallow deer
- Dama dama mesopotamica, the Persian fallow deer
Some scientists believe at the Persian fallow deer, which is rare, is a separate species.
Fallow Deer Appearance
Fallow deer also differ from other deer in that males are much larger than females. Males can weigh twice as much as females, and the largest buck weighed as much as 330 pounds. Besides hunting and use as livestock, fallow deer are valued because of their beauty and grace.
The texture of the deer’s coat differs with the season. During the warm season, the colors of the coat are paler, and the hair is shorter and smoother. The winter coat is shaggy, darker, and has an undercoat. If the deer has white spots, they are abundant on the back and sides of the animal, absent on the legs and the head, and sparse on the neck.
Only the male fallow deer has antlers, and his antlers are large, shaped like shovels, and have many points. Indeed, they resemble the antlers of the bull moose, and they’re usually between 1.6 and 2.29 feet long. The buck starts growing palmate antlers when he’s about three years old. Before that, his antlers are simply spikes. The buck loses his antlers in April and grows another pair that are fully grown by August.
Fallow Deer Behavior
Fallow deer are nocturnal and are most active between just after sunset and sunrise. During those hours they feed, look for food, or rest. Bucks usually keep to themselves, but at the end of summer, they start to gather into herds that are made up of no more than six individuals. By the fall, which is their breeding season or rut, these bachelor herds drift towards herds made up of females and juveniles.
The senses of the fallow deer are quite acute, and their vision is especially sharp. They communicate with each other through posturing, vocalization, and smells. They have an impressive array of vocalizations, including:
- The bark: this sound is uttered by females as an alarm call
- The bleat: this is made while females are giving birth or communicating with their fawns
- The mew: this is a sound of submission
- The peep: this is the sound a baby deer makes when it wants its mother
- The wail: this is the cry the baby makes when it’s in distress
- The grunt and the groan: these sounds are made by rutting males
The deer also uses its body to communicate. An alert stance is a raised head and rigidly held body. They also trot, gallop and pronk, which is when the animal leaps high in the air on all four stiffly held legs. Like white-tailed deer, the fallow deer raises its tail when it runs.
Because fallow deer are the prey of so many carnivores, including humans, they are vigilant. This is especially true of females with fawns.
Fallow Deer Habitat
The fallow deer can thrive in a variety of habitats, as long as it can support the vegetation that they eat. They do best in old-growth forests dominated by broad-leafed, deciduous trees such as oaks, especially if these forests contain glades. Fallow deer can also be found in forests of deciduous trees and conifers, in grasslands, savannas, and scrublands.
Fallow Deer Diet
Like many types of deer, fallow deer are herbivores, but they are not particular when it comes to their diet. They eat grasses, acorns, and other fruit produced by trees, leaves, twigs, and shrubbery. They’ll also take herbs, shoots, and buds and will even eat bark. Their preferences depend on what is available.
Fallow Deer Predators and Threats
Fallow deer are hunted by humans and other predators that are big or clever enough to bring them down. The mammal’s overall alertness to its surroundings and its propensity to gather in herds saves it from those predators who are not hunting with firearms.
Fallow Deer Reproduction and Life Cycle
Fallow deer have a somewhat complex reproductive strategy. When they enter the rut, bucks stop eating. Since the rut can last for 135 days, a buck can lose as much as 17 percent of his body weight and develop a fatty liver. If the deer lives in the northern hemisphere, the rut occurs in October. If they live in the southern hemisphere, it happens in April.
During the breeding season, the buck establishes a rut stand or a territory. He does this by attacking low-hanging branches and leaves with their antlers, groaning and grunting and scraping the ground, and urinating in the area. Each buck has its own distinctive vocalization that both warn other bucks away and entices females. If a buck enters another’s territory and refuses to leave, the two may fight by shoving their antlers together. The antlers might sustain damage, but a severe injury to the body is unusual. On the other hand, females visit the males’ territories and choose a mate. The male will sniff the female and “dance” around her to impress her before she allows him to copulate.
Sometimes a group of bucks will claim a small territory in an area. This area is called a lek.
Female fallow deer are polyestrous, which means that they can go into heat several times during the breeding season if they don’t become pregnant. However, the doe usually does become pregnant during her first heat. Does can become pregnant when they are 16 months old, even though they are not fully grown until they are between four and six years old. Males are fertile when they’re 17 months old, but due to the dominance of older males, they usually don’t have a chance at mating until they are four years old. Bucks are fully grown when they are between five and nine years old.
The doe is pregnant for between 33 and 35 weeks. When the time comes to give birth, she’ll find a hiding place then bear a single fawn, rarely twins. The baby weighs between 4.4 and 8.8 pounds, and its mother keeps it hidden in a thicket. She’ll leave to forage then come back to nurse it every four hours or so. When the fawn is about a month old, its mother will introduce it to the herd of other mothers and their fawns. Bucks do not help care for fawns.
The mother starts to wean the baby after about 20 days, and weaning is complete when the fawn is about seven months old. It is completely independent when it’s a year old.
Fallow Deer Population
The fallow deer’s conservation status is Least Concern, and there are places where they are considered either livestock or an invasive species. The former is true in Pennsylvania and other states while the latter is true in parts of California. There are at least 100,000 animals in Great Britain and 4,431 in Australia.
The Persian fallow deer is rare and considered endangered. It is only found in Israel and Iran. There are over a thousand of them as of 2021. The lifespan of this deer seems to be around 11 years in the wild, much less than the lifespan of D. dama.