For many autumn conjures up thoughts of deciduous woodlands transformed into a splendid array of mellow colours, wind-swept days, and acorns and conkers falling to the ground. As a wildlife enthusiast, for me equally evocative of autumn are the sound of clashing antlers and roars of stags that signal the on-set of the rut for the three largest (Red, Sika and Fallow) among the six species of deer living wild in Britain.
The mating season for red, sika and fallow deer may stretch out over eight weeks, but for all reaches its peak (the rut) sometime during October. Having lived placidly together in all male bachelor groups over the summer (first clip below) , …..
…by September the mature males develop thickened necks and manes, become increasingly aggressive to one another, and set off in search of female groups and mating grounds (see second video clip)
The ensuing spectacle of the rut has all the ingredients of a cinema blockbuster, as high-ranking males lock antlers in fierce battles for supremacy and access to females, which can lead to injuries and sometimes death for the looser. Such battles are preceded by a wide range of ritualistic displays including thrashing of vegetation, wallowing in mud, and parallel walking to suss out the opposition, all backed by a soundtrack of the loud roaring of red stags, the deep belching groans of fallow bucks, or eerie high-pitched whistling of the sika. The prize at stake is to be one of the small proportion of sexually mature males to dominate the great majority of matings that season, either by gathering a large harem of females that a stag will repeatedly chivvy to keep them together, or defending a prime mating territory (or stand) that he will guard fiercely against any other male.
I don’t have any decent HD footage of stags fighting and mating (yet!), but can’t wait to try and get some over the next few weeks. Aside from well-known deer forests such as Cannock Chase, The Forest of Dean, The New Forest, Ashridge Forest , Exmoor in SW England and the Cairngorms in Scotland, some of the prime places to observe the autumn deer rut are the numerous readily accessible deer parks located within easy reach of most of our major cities; Including The Royal Parks – Richmond, Bushy and Home Park– in London, NT Petworth park in Sussex, Powderham in Devon, Wollaton in Nottingham, NT Lyme Park nr Stockport, Knole Park in Kent …and many many others.
WHEN GOING TO OBSERVE THE RUT HOWEVER PLEASE arm yourself with binoculars or camera with a long zoom lens, don’t be tempted to approach the deer closer than about 150 metres and avoid the deer becoming surrounded by people on several sides, so as not to disrupt the natural behaviour of the deer as well as for your personal safety.
One other consequence of the heightened movement of deer during the mating season, is that they may run blindly across roads with other things than traffic foremost on their mind (!) leading to an annual spike in fallow, red and sika deer road casualties from early October through into November. With clocks then going back for daylight saving, this also brings rush hour traffic in line with dawn and dusk and the early part of the night – when deer crossings and near misses are most likely. So as nights draw in, Take care – Be DeerAware !