Tag Archives: nature

The Spectacle of the Autumn Deer Rut

Looking forward to 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, 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 !


 

Wild Exmoor stag learn to use antlers as tools

The wily Exmoor stag 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 video clip featured widely on BBC TV and other media during March, 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. I’d observed a number of other stags in the past simply thrashing their antlers against bird feeders, scattering a few seeds on the ground now and again.  But in the amusing trimmed version of my clip with audio as used by the BBC 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 part of the clearer full size youtube clip (below) you can see the feeder being  seen to smash open on the deer’s back, though this was far from a one off.

Krypton

“Wily old stag uses antlers to dislodge bird feeders”

Having set up cameras by several bird feeders in nearby gardens. the wily old stag i named ‘Cedar’ managed the trick increasingly quickly; but normally once dislodged the he would paw at the feeder on the ground until the lid snapped off and then ate the contents.   Red Stag at birdfeeder Red stag at bird feeder

One of the first occasions I noted him and another stag feeding from bird feeders was two year’s earlier 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 ‘Cedar’, aged at least 12 to 15 years old at the time, 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 :-). Click on thumbnails below to play clips.

“Cedar making an entrance”

Scatch

“Stag Cedar using antlers a backscratchers”

Halloween

“Stag Cedar dresses up for Halloween”

smoking

Stag Cedar Smoking

Mapie

“Stag Cedar and Magpie Friend”

town

“..and a Good night from Stag Cedar”


 

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