Tag Archives: nature

The Dexterous Deer that learned to use his antlers as tools

When researching and filming red deer in the urban fringe over the past two years (see my previous blog) one particular stag always stood out for his intelligence, dexterity and constant twinkle in his eye !

Startled !In one clip featured widely on BBC TV and other media this week, I’d filmed him dislodging bird feeders in gardens on the edge of the Exmoor National Park in Somerset.  The intriguing thing about this however is not merely to have a stag in a garden pinching food from a bird feeder, but the very intricate way this stag gradually ‘learned’  to use his antlers to unhook the feeders.  Not least as hoofed animals (ungulates) are not generally regarded as the brainiest among mammals.

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I’d observed a number of other stags before simply thrashing their antlers against bird feeders, scattering a few seeds on the ground now and again.  But in the amusing short clip used by BBC TV and News on Instagram  it shows this old wily stag actually using the tip of his antlers to lift feeders off the tree branches they were hooked on to.  In the first clip the feeder is even seen to smash open on the deer’s back, though this was far from a one off. Having set up cameras by several bird feeders in nearby gardens he managed the trick increasingly quickly; but normally once dislodged the stag would paw at the feeder on the ground until the lid snapped off and then ate the contents.  This is seen a bit more clearly on the longer HD version of the original clip on Youtube  ‘Stag auditions for Krypton factor’, and in some of the other video clips of the same stag at the end of this blog post.

Red Stag at birdfeeder Red stag at bird feeder

On one of the first occasions I noted him and another stag feeding from bird feeders was two year’s ago in spring, soon after the stags had cast their previous antlers to start to re-grow a new set (see antler growth blog). Even then this wily old stag (which I named ‘Cedar’) of at least 12 to 15 years old, showed he was much more adept than the other deer. Above he is seen reaching with his tongue right into a bird table, while the others just waited for the occasional tit-bit to fall on the ground.  Sadly due to an infected injury sustained in the rut this stag did not make it through yet another winter, though he’d lived far longer than most wild stags ever reach on Exmoor.  It will be interesting to see if some of his many offspring turn out to be just as clever.

To see some of the other antics this wild stag got up to when visiting various gardens I’d been filming in, click on the thumbnails below to link to short video clips ranging from some where he uses his antlers as backscratchers, to others where he raids the washing line to dress up for Halloween :-).


“Stag Cedar using antlers a backscratchers”

Click on thumbnails below to play clips.


“Stag Cedar dresses up for Halloween”


Stag Cedar Smoking


“Stag Cedar and Magpie Friend”


“Stag Cedar auditions for Krypton factor”


“..and a Good night from Stag Cedar”


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The Spectacle of the Autumn Deer Rut

The Spectacle of the Autumn Deer Rut 

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 equally evocative of autumn for me 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) of our six free living species of deer in Britain.


The mating season for red, sika and fallow deer may stretch out over eight weeks, but for all reaches its peak sometime during October. Having lived placidly together in bachelor groups over the summer, in 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.

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 vast majority of matings that season, either over a large harem of females that a stag may repeatedly chivvy to keep together, or within a prime mating territory he will defend fiercely against other males.
Aside from well-known deer forests such as Cannock Chase, The Forest of Dean, The New Forest, Ashridge Forest and the Cairngorms, 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, such as The Royal Parks – Richmond, Bushy and Home Park- in London,  Windsor Great Park, Petworth in Sussex, Powderham in Devon, Wollaton in Nottingham, Knole in Kent …and many many others.

If observing the rut however please arm yourself with binoculars or camera with a good zoom lens, and don’t be tempted to approach the deer closer than about 200 metres, to avoid disrupting the natural behaviour of the deer as well as for personal safety.

One other consequence of the heightened mobility of deer during the rut, is that they will often blindly run across roads with little else on their mind, leading to a spike in fallow, red and sika deer road casualties around end of October and into November.  With clocks 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 are most likely.  So as nights draw in, Take care – Be DeerAware !

[Adapted from my earlier rut blog done for BBC Autumnwatch]


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