Fallow deer

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Fallow deer
Male fallow deer in Mecklenburg

Male fallow deer in Mecklenburg

without rank: Forehead weapon bearer (Pecora)
Family : Deer (Cervidae)
Subfamily : Cervinae
Tribe : Real deer (Cervini)
Genre : Fallow deer ( dama )
Type : Fallow deer
Scientific name
Dama dama
( Linnaeus , 1758)

The fallow deer ( Dama dama ), also known as fallow deer , is a medium-sized deer . The shovel antlers of the male animals and the spotted summer fur are characteristic. Fallow deer are diurnal and prefer to live in open landscapes in which small areas of forest alternate with agricultural areas. Fallow deer often occupy permanent rutting places that have existed for decades and where they gather every year.

Originally the occurrence of fallow deer was probably limited to the Middle East, including Asia Minor . But it was already introduced in other regions by the Romans. Today it is at home in many regions of Europe because it was introduced by sovereigns as another huntable big game , especially during the period of absolutism . The largest stocks of fallow deer are in the UK today. The fallow deer are still kept in large gates in some regions. The fallow deer can now also be found outside Eurasia and also plays a major role in wild animal husbandry for meat production.


Female in winter coat

The fallow deer is significantly larger than the deer , but smaller and, above all, lighter than a red deer . The European subspecies has a head-torso length of 120 to 140 centimeters, an approximately 20 centimeter long frond (tail) and a shoulder height of 80 to 100 centimeters. The weight of the males usually varies between 53 and 90 kilograms, very heavy males can reach a weight of 110 kilograms in exceptional cases. The males of the somewhat larger Mesopotamian subspecies can reach head-trunk lengths of over two meters. The females, on the other hand, weigh between 35 and 55 kilograms. The weight of the males fluctuates considerably over the course of the year; they gain weight during the so-called Feist, but lose up to 27 percent of their body weight during the rut . In females, the seasonal fluctuations are less pronounced, the weight fluctuates around seven kilograms over the course of the year. It reaches the minimum value between January and April and the maximum value between September and November.

Females have an even, light physique and differ from the otherwise similarly built (red) hinds mainly in their gait and long tail, which is constantly in motion. In comparison to the male red deer, the male is more plump and stocky. It has a shorter neck, shorter and less strong legs, clearer tear pits, and a shovel-shaped antler with a round rod and eyeshadow rungs on the rear edge. The larynx is clearly visible in adult male fallow deer, it is about 15 centimeters below the jaw. The stomach area bulges relatively strongly downwards. The so-called "brush" - the tuft of hair that surrounds the penis - is already clearly visible in young animals from the end of August. After the wet season in late summer, fallow deer often have a large amount of fat on their necks due to the storage of stored fat, which can even bulge into "fat folds". The eyes are amber to brownish yellow. The shells (hooves) are black.


Winter fur
Clearly recognizable eel line in a female in summer coat

The hair color is very variable depending on the season and the individual. In normal colored individuals the summer coat is light rusty brown with striking white spots. These rows of spots begin almost at the rear edge of the thighs and run down the sides of the trunk and back to the base of the neck. A dark line of eel runs down the middle of the back, which in European fallow deer continues to the tip of the tail. In the Mesopotamian fallow deer, however, it ends at the base of the tail. The eel line is bordered on both sides by a white dotted line on the back. A noticeable, horizontal, light line runs down the middle of the side of the body. The underside of the abdomen and the legs are light and monochromatic, the neck is monochromatic light rust-brown. The so-called mirror is bordered by a black border, so that the dark tail creates a lively drawing of the rear part. In winter, the fallow deer is brown-gray on the head, neck and ears, blackish on the back and sides, and ash-gray on the underside. The staining is then only vaguely visible.

In Central Europe, young animals change to summer coat from the beginning of May; in adult animals this hair change begins in the second half of May. Regardless of age and gender, this hair change takes about forty days. In animals that still have their winter coat after the end of June, this is a sign of illness or lack of food. The change from summer coat to winter coat begins between early and mid-September. Male animals need a little longer to change their hair , as the rut also occurs during the hair change. Towards the end of October to the beginning of November, however, the change is also complete in the males; females usually show their fully developed winter plumage as early as the second half of October.

Color anomalies

Color anomaly in fallow deer
White fallow deer in the second year of life with the pike antlers characteristic of this age group
Antlers not yet swept with eyebrows and central rungs and shovel. The rung on the rear edge of the shovel is called a thorn

In comparison to other wild ungulates, color anomalies are relatively common in fallow deer. This frequent occurrence is probably due to the semi-domesticated keeping in deer parks for centuries. In the wild today, one to three of ten fallow deer have a coat color that differs from the normal color . Some individuals have a summer coat that is reminiscent of that of red deer in its color and in which the spotting is almost or completely absent. However, they still show the dark eel line and the dark border of the mirror. Others have a light brown summer dress with the white spots typical of fallow deer, but they lack the eel line, only the top of the tail is dark. In these animals, the sides of the body, the underside of the abdomen and the legs are typically almost white.

Black color morphs are the most common variety of fallow deer, the trait is most certainly inherited recessively. In these animals, the hair cover is purely black except for the underside of the abdomen and the legs, while the legs and underside of the abdomen are gray-black. The mirror is not visible in all animals with this coloration. White color morphs also occur. As a rule, albinotic fallow deer have a normal eye color, oculocutaneous albinism type 2 , which is associated with red eyes, is very rare in fallow deer. The hooves of albino fallow deer are medium brown. As calves, white fallow deer are isabel-colored with a blotchy color; they only become lighter and lighter with further hair changes. It can take one to several years until they have a white coat. White fallow deer are mainly to be seen in animal parks and zoos, as they are classified as not worthy of care in the wild and are specifically shot down. However, there is still the superstition among hunters that shooting a white stag will result in death within a year. There are also pied animals in which individual parts of the body are white or black.


Only males develop antlers . The most important biological function of these antlers is to fight and defend the hierarchy. The antlers consist of two rods, which in adult and normally developed males usually each consist of an eye rung, above a middle rung and a more or less pronounced widening, the so-called shovel. So-called ice shoots, which lie between the eyepiece and the middle rung, are relatively rare in fallow deer. The front edge of the shovel is usually smooth, the other sides can be bulged or slotted (e.g. crab claws as an undesirable shape).

The shedding of the antlers of adult deer usually takes place from the beginning of April to the beginning of May. Similar to red deer, the older the deer are, the earlier they are shed. The growth of the new antlers begins shortly after the shedding. The antlers are covered with a protective and nourishing bast skin during growth . The bast skin dies after the antlers have formed and is removed by the deer from the remaining bone mass by sweeping bushes and tree branches. Freshly swept antlers are initially light-colored and occasionally slightly reddened by blood that is still attached. The dark color is caused by the juices of the plants on which the antlers are swept. Since the antlers are an organ of the body, external factors such as diet and the age of the deer play a role in their development. In well-developed males in the seventh or eighth year of life, the rods are at least 55 centimeters long, and the antlers usually weigh two kilograms. In exceptional cases, the antlers can reach a length of 94 centimeters, the distance between the two antlers is between 30 and 76 centimeters.

In young animals, the frontal bone processes (rose bushes) are developed by February of the year following the birth. From February or March onwards, the stalks that have not yet been struck, the so-called "skewers" without roses, usually develop under the bast skin. They are between 5 and 40 centimeters long. Young males sweep their antlers as early as mid-August, a little earlier than adult males. A fallow deer in its third year (second head) has roses, an eye and central stem and a fork at the end of the pole. He is called Knieper or Sproßler. A fallow deer with the 3rd head is called a spoonbill because there is a shovel at the end of the pole. Older fallow deer are known as shovels.


The sound repertoire of the fallow deer is very different. A distinction is made in the specialist literature between bleating, meowing, squeaking, fright, lamenting and the rutting call.

Bleating sounds can be heard by females, especially in summer and early autumn, as they call for their calves with them. The calves respond with a bright squeak. Meowing sounds that sound like a short mi mi mi can be heard in females willing to mate and are among the typical sounds that can be heard in the vicinity of a rut. The rutting call is less melodic than the roar of the red deer, it is grunting or burping sounds that are uttered in quick succession. The complaint can only be heard when the patient is extremely excited and in response to a situation that seems hopeless. It can be heard, for example, when a fallow deer is attacked by a dog or when a person approaches a fallow deer unable to escape. Rutting calls can be heard by humans up to a distance of one kilometer away. Startled and agitated animals make barking noises.

Damtier with clearly recognizable pre-eye gland
Portrait of a black damier


It has not yet been finally clarified which of the senses determines the behavior of the fallow deer the most. Some authors attach greater importance to the sense of sight and hearing, other authors see the fallow deer as a more olfactory-oriented animal.

Fallow deer have a number of scent glands whose scent signals play a role in social life. The pre-eye gland (also tear pit or anorbital organ), which is common to all deer wearing antlers, is striking . The pre-eye glands secrete a brownish secretion, especially during the rutting season. Other scent glands are the inter-toe or interdigital glands and the metatarsal organ , also known as the ankle gland , which is located on the outside of the hind legs just below the ankle and secretes a pale, waxy secretion, the smell of which Langbein and Chapman compare to rancid butter . The secretion of these glands is stripped off the low vegetation so that the deer leave a scent trail. Fallow deer are able to recognize each other by their specific weather conditions, and calves and dams also recognize each other by the weather. A smell of the anal and genital regions as well as other parts of the body can often be observed between animals in a pack. Smell also plays a role in the perception of enemies. Human smell is perceived from a distance of up to 400 meters.

The eyes standing sideways allow the fallow deer to see a wide area without turning its head. The ability to recognize stationary objects is not very well developed. Like many other deer, fallow deer react particularly to movement. Wherever they are hunted, they react to people moving in open areas even at a great distance. The wildlife biologists Axel Siefke and Christoph Stubbe point out that the fallow deer is more capable than other game species of inferring humans from parts of the enemy scheme.

Fallow deer are able to move their ears (eavesdroppers) independently of each other, turning them 180 degrees. This allows them to locate a sound very precisely without moving their head or body and thus attracting attention. As a rule, a fallow deer does not react to conspicuous noises with flight, but with a protective behavior in which the senses of smell and sight are used.


European fallow deer

For the fallow deer, three gaits can be distinguished: walk, trot and gallop. Gradual pulling is the fallow deer's usual method of locomotion. You keep pausing to secure or to orientate yourself in the terrain. Slowly moving females often move their heads and necks in a striking regularity with body movements. Fallow deer, on the other hand, only trot or troll over short distances. With this faster pace, stragglers catch up with the pack, it can also be seen playing fallow deer or when females notice a disturbance very early on and then flee at a distance. If the pace is moderately fast, both sexes soar with all four runs at the same time. Because of this jumping, goat-like locomotion, fallow deer are also referred to as damn bitch in older literature. This mode of locomotion is also found in other deer species such as the white-tailed deer native to North America . Male animals fleeing at a gallop have a step width of about 2.50 meters. In females, on the other hand, the distances are smaller and are between 1.50 and 2 meters. For the footprints of fleeing fallow deer, splayed shells and pressing dewclaws are characteristic. Fleeing fallow deer occasionally show so-called bounce jumps , in which they push themselves off the ground with all four runs at the same time, but land again in almost the same place. The hooves hitting the ground cause a clearly perceptible noise. The function of these bouncing jumps has not been conclusively clarified. It can be an alarm signal for conspecifics, but also behavior with which the source of interference is kept in view. But bouncing jumps also show females and calves after playful chases. In this case, according to Jochen Langbein and Norma Chapman, they are a pure expression of "joie de vivre '".

The fallow deer's jumping ability is well developed, the slightly larger males can jump over obstacles up to a height of 1.80 meters, while females can jump over obstacles up to a height of about 1.50 meters. As a rule, however, fallow deer avoid jumping over obstacles. Fleeing fallow deer often do not seek the next cover, but flee at a distance after being disturbed and then pause, continuing to watch the disturber. Disturbed fallow deer occasionally “huddle” in cover, with the animal's head and neck pressing flat against the ground. They then remain motionless and only flee when the danger has come within a few steps.

Expressive behavior

Black fallow deer

Fallow deer that feel undisturbed are characterized by their relaxed posture. The ears are moved regularly, they walk calmly and concentrate while they graze or they rest calmly on the floor and chew evenly again. Resting fallow deer lie with their legs beaten under their bodies. When they are at rest, the head is often tilted vertically with the eyes closed. However, they often rest their head on one of the two flanks. A resting posture is rarely seen, in which the legs are straightened to the side and the neck is stretched out flat on the ground.

When fallow deer notice something that worries them, they jerk their head up and point their ears forward. Fallow deer previously resting on the ground then usually jump up and face the source of the disturbance. The body is tense, the animals are ready to jump. Your excitement is expressed in short, stiff-legged steps or even a few lateral bouncing jumps. This reaction carries over to the other members of the pack. If an adult animal escapes, the other members of a pack follow him immediately.

The tail position is of particular importance in intra-species communication. In undisturbed animals, it hangs loosely or is only moved loosely to the side. Troubled fallow deer lift their tail slightly curved into the horizontal, while fleeing fallow deer raise the tail steeply or even lay it almost on its back. In normal-colored fallow deer, the bright mirror and the white underside of the tail give a clear optical signal to the other animals.

If the individual distance is not reached within a pack, female animals threaten with protruding head and ears. You are indicating a pushing and / or biting. This behavior is particularly noticeable in females who have very young calves. Only in exceptional cases does the females stand on their hind legs and hit the disturber with their forelegs. Usually the other female is already showing gestures of appeasement or humility. The neck is stretched or even lowered horizontally, the ears are laid back. Males also show this behavior when they have shed their antlers. The threatening and imposing behavior of the males with antlers corresponds to the behavior repertoire during the rut.


In the last interglacial the fallow deer was still widespread in central and southern Europe, but was pushed back to the Mediterranean area in the subsequent glacial period. Presumably the species was restricted to Western Asia including Asia Minor, but it may also have occurred in North Africa and Southern Europe.

Since ancient times, the Phoenicians, and after them the Romans, introduced the fallow deer in many countries in the Mediterranean, i.e. in Greece , Italy , Spain and North Africa. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder mention him as a permanent resident of their homeland. Individual finds from ancient times are also known from Trier and other cities north of the Alps.

Distribution of fallow deer
1 - secured natural distribution area
2 - possible natural distribution area
3 - early settlement by humans (before 1900)
4 - present occurrence

There is no consensus in the literature as to whether Britain's fallow deer populations date back to Roman naturalization between 150 and 450 AD. There is evidence that fallow deer were common in Britain in the 11th century. According to Jochen Langbein and Norma Chapman, the fallow deer populations in the British New Forest and Epping Forest go back to a settlement by the Norman kings . Other authors see a stock of fallow deer only secured for the 13th century. Fallow deer was imported from Great Britain to Denmark and fallow deer reached Central Europe via Denmark , whereby the fallow deer was first kept in gates and later successfully released into the wild. The first historically documented fallow deer naturalization in what is now the Federal Republic of Germany took place in 1577. The Danish King Friedrich II sent 30 fallow deer to the Hessian Landgrave Ludwig IV , which he kept in his wildlife park near the Sababurg . In Prussia the species was introduced towards the end of the 17th century, in Pomerania and Livonia only in the middle of the 18th century. In general, major attempts at naturalization go back to the 18th century by individual sovereigns who were the only ones who had the appropriate means and opportunities to finance the effort associated with naturalization. In those parts of the country where red deer were available in sufficient numbers for the stately hunts, there was generally no introduction. Later introductions mainly took place where large landowners were interested in introducing a "substitute game species" for their hunting purposes. This applies, for example, to Schleswig-Holstein, where red deer were rare, but also to Mecklenburg , Brandenburg , Pomerania and East Prussia . The distribution in Central Europe is largely influenced by the randomness of previous ownership. Even in Great Britain, where fallow deer are widespread, the individual populations are locally limited and wild populations predominantly occur where they were previously kept in gates. Lower Saxony is an exception, where fallow deer were only introduced shortly before the Second World War through associations of hunters and individual district owners. Today it is the most deer-richest German state. There are no fallow deer in the wild in Switzerland; the number of fallow deer in Austria is estimated at around 500. Great Britain has the highest population in Europe today. At the beginning of the 21st century, 100,000 individuals lived there in the wild.

Even today, fallow deer can often be found in private game enclosures in Central Europe. In modern times, the species was also brought to New Zealand , Australia , North America , South Africa , Chile , Peru , Argentina , Japan , Tasmania and Madagascar , where wild herds also exist today. The introduction in New Zealand is exemplary: an acclimatization society introduced the first fallow deer there in 1867, but they did not survive. Two years later, the Acclimatization Society imported a dozen fallow deer from Tasmania, which became New Zealand's founding population. Just a few years later, the population had increased so much that farmers in the region complained about damage to their agricultural land. When the New Zealand government began to cull them in the 1930s because of the massive damage to forests by red deer , various New Zealand acclimatization societies argued that fallow deer did much less damage because they preferred semi-open bush landscapes as their habitat and could survive in regions where red deer would could not. Fallow deer were released into the wild in various regions of New Zealand during this period. Today, fallow deer are the most common and widespread species of deer in New Zealand after the red deer.

In contrast, the fallow deer became increasingly rare in many areas of its original range. It disappeared from North Africa in the 19th century, from mainland Greece around 1900 and in Sardinia in the 1950s. The species also became increasingly rare around this time in the Asian parts of the distribution area. An alleged occurrence of fallow deer around 1000 years ago in Ethiopia is based solely on artistic relics.

The Mesopotamian fallow deer was originally common in the Middle East. After the form became extinct in the wild, some populations are now back in Iran and Israel.



The fallow deer prefers light forests with extensive meadows, but is generally very adaptable, so that it can be found in almost all regions of Europe. Ideal fallow deer areas have a dense mosaic of forest and field corridors, whereby the forest is mainly composed of deciduous trees. The soil is rich in nutrients and produces lush shrub vegetation. The proportion of forest in the respective habitat does not have to be very large because fallow deer need the forest primarily as cover, but not as a food supplier. In Great Britain, fallow deer are increasingly found in relatively open agricultural steppes where only small remnants of forest offer them cover.

Presumably the original range of the fallow deer was already diverse. The fallow deer have a few morphological characteristics that, like the roe deer, would allow an assignment to the hatchery type. Its predominantly optical orientation and its life in large packs, however, indicate a behavior adjustment to open, uncovered biotopes. Compared to red and sika deer, the fallow deer shows less tendency to become more nocturnal with regular disturbances by humans. In Great Britain, free-range herds of fallow deer often graze or rest in open spaces that are directly adjacent to busy roads.

The individual spatial behavior of a fallow deer has not yet been conclusively investigated; above all, detailed telemetric studies such as those already carried out with roe deer and red deer are still missing . On the basis of long-term observations of individual animals that can be identified by their individual spots, it has been concluded that a single fallow deer uses an area that covers between 100 and 200 hectares. The size of the area that a single animal wanders through increases, especially in the winter months. For fallow deer that live in open agricultural steppes, the action space is larger than for those that inhabit regions with a dense mosaic of forest and field meadows.

Fallow deer in bast

The wildlife biologist Erhard Ueckermann considers the biotically sustainable game density to be high. Biotically sustainable game density is the population density at which the development of body, antlers and weight corresponds to the genetic and environmental possibilities of the respective animal species. In areas with very good living conditions, Ueckermann estimates it for fallow deer to be 20 per 100 hectares, even if it cannot graze on agricultural land and is not fed in winter. If, on the other hand, the fallow deer has an equally large field area for grazing in addition to the forest, Ueckermann believes that the biotically sustainable game density increases to 40 per 100 hectares. If the biotically acceptable game density is exceeded, fallow deer react with weight loss and a significant decrease in the fertilization rate. The wood and agriculturally sustainable game density - that is the game density in which game damage can still be averted with reasonable effort - is significantly lower than the biotically sustainable and is estimated at three to ten fallow deer per 100 hectares. The high intra-species compatibility is also the reason for the only gradual development of new habitats.

In regions with high fallow deer populations, the deer population is usually low. Fallow deer seem to be too restless for the roe deer, so that deer leave the grazing areas when fallow deer approaches. Red deer and fallow deer are usually not kept next to each other in the same area, as they compete in their grazing requirements.

Food and subsistence

The fallow deer is a ruminant that is able to use food that is rich in crude fiber and therefore poor in nutrients and difficult to digest. The fallow deer is classified as an intermediate type according to its feeding behavior. He thus occupies an intermediate position between animals that only use roughage and those that are so-called selectors . Compared to roe deer and red deer, the fallow deer is considered to be the more frugal species that only causes forest damage at game density values ​​that are significantly higher than those of the red deer.

Fallow deer grazing in the bast

Fallow deer graze and ruminate day and night at intervals of around three to four hours, the longest and most intensive grazing intervals take place in the morning and at dusk. During the summer, when the nutritional needs are particularly high, fallow deer spend up to 80 percent of the time grazing. In the winter half of the year, food intake decreases even if there is an abundant supply of food.

Fallow deer only eat vegetable food, namely grasses, herbs, leaves, unwooded and - in contrast to roe deer - also lignified shoots and the bark of trees and bushes, as well as their fruits, and mushrooms. The height of the fallow deer when grazing reaches from the ground to a height of 1.40 meters, when standing on the hind legs to the leaves and shoots in the top of young trees. The composition of the food varies in the course of the year and is largely determined by the respective offer. Grass is mainly eaten in the months from May to September. In the period from September to January, fruits make up 40 percent. Chestnuts play an essential role in this, but apples, pears and plums are also eaten. If there is cover on agricultural land, fallow deer graze on it. All types of grain are eaten, with increasing ripeness the less awned types such as wheat and oats are preferred. When it comes to maize, they particularly like to eat the young cobs, and they are also often used to graze on rape and sunflowers. In addition, fallow deer also eat potatoes and beets.

The food is basically very watery, so that fallow deer are able to get along without water.


Fallow deer are generally social animals that live in flocks or packs. Apart from the rutting season, adult animals usually live in packs separated by sex, but strict pack formation does not take place. Only very old deer occasionally live solitary.

The size of the individual pack depends on the habitat. In habitats with a high proportion of open space, the packs tend to be larger than in habitats that are predominantly forested. Packs can contain between 30 and 200 individuals, but the pack composition is variable; smaller groups of individuals either join the pack or break away from it and move on. Such subgroups consist of a maximum of five individuals and consist of one or two Damtiere with their offspring this year and occasionally also the offspring from the previous year.

Bald deer and rutting pack

Bald deer pack

Herds of fallow deer, which are also regularly joined by subadult male fallow deer, can be found almost throughout the year. They are usually composed of several mother families. Shortly before the birth of this year's calf, the pregnant dams separate from the pack and remain alone for a few weeks after the birth of their offspring. Only then do they reunite in packs. The previous year's calves, which are now called the philistines or greasy animals, stay nearby during this time and rejoin the mother and the new sibling in July. Mollusks remain in these mother families, which represent the core of the deer pack, until the rut or into the winter. In the case of the philistines, the bond with the mother group is less pronounced. With them, the bond with the mother group ends at the latest towards the end of the second year of life, but they occasionally leave the mother group much earlier and occasionally join other packs of deer.

The composition of the deer pack changes briefly during the rut. Old and black animals move to the rutting places and form pure female herds there. The calves are in temporary youth groups nearby. The old alliances will only be formed again in November.

During the rutting season, adult fallow deer seek the vicinity of the fallow deer; these mixed-sex packs are known as rutting packs from October to December, when they are most frequently observed. The rutting packs usually break up again in December. Especially in habitats that consist mainly of open spaces, the adult deer occasionally stay with the fallow deer long after the rut and in exceptional cases are still in the vicinity of the deer packs in April or May. However, it is more typical that the deer reunite to form deer packs after the rut.

Deer pack

Pure deer packs usually contain fewer animals than the deer packs, usually between seven and twelve young to middle-aged deer belong to a pack. Deer herds of more than 100 individuals have been observed in regions of Great Britain that are rich in fallow deer, such as the Wyre Forest , Cannock Chase and New Forest . With increasing age the males avoid such large groups. Very old deer often live solitary. The composition of this pack changes more frequently than in the case of the deer pack.

Deer packs begin to disintegrate as soon as the antler sweeping is completed in August. They then increasingly begin to compete with other males for rutting places.



Capital fallow deer

In Central Europe, the adult fallow deer migrate alone or in small groups to the traditional rutting places that often last for several decades. The rutting grounds of fallow deer often exist for many years and are visited repeatedly by both dams and fallow deer. In old fallow deer areas, the same rutting places can be proven for a period of more than fifty years.

The presence of fallow deer in the rutting areas can already be determined from the end of September based on the impact points. In the process, fallow deer smash individual young trees or drooping branches with their antlers. When stroking the head vertically down on thin trunks or branches, the deer also wipe secretions from the pre-eye glands on the wood. Fallow deer inform their conspecifics about their presence via this individual smell. The actual mating season begins at the beginning of October and lasts until mid-November, the height of the rut is in the second half of October. Adult deer develop several secondary sexual characteristics during this time . The neck circumference increases, the shaft of the penis is everted and secreted secretions color the brush and the groin dark. The deer smell pungent pungent for humans at this time. The rutting process continues as long as there are dams ready to mate at the rutting sites. The deer hardly graze during the rutting season and lose a lot of weight during this time. The rutting process usually ends very abruptly and is largely over in Central Europe in the first week of November.

Annual deer are already capable of procreation, but in the wild, like every two-year-old and largely three-year-old deer, they are excluded from the rut and thus from reproduction, as they do not manage to occupy a rutting site next to the older fallow deer.

Rutting calls

Fallow deer rutting call, Devon, England , October 1964

The fallow deer's rutting cries cannot be compared to those of the red deer in terms of their ability to modulate and express themselves; Fallow deer call higher, more monotonous and grunt. Both lying and standing deer call; calling deer are usually at least three years old. They can only be heard in exceptional cases from younger deer, with them the pitch of the calls is significantly higher and the sequences are shorter. When calling, the mouth is wide open, the individual short, nasal sounding call lasts just under a second, the call interval is up to four seconds. Roaring fallow deer lift their heads with every scream, the antlers describe almost a quarter circle backwards, the pre-eye glands are wide open when called.

The calls can usually only be heard in the evening and in the morning. The presence of female animals does not affect the call activities of the deer. Presumably, the function of screaming is primarily to announce one's own territory and to notify the females of their presence.

Rutting behavior

Different rutting behavior is described: Strong stags claim a rutting place against rivals, where they scratch several rutting hollows with their forelegs and sometimes with the help of their antlers. Such rutting pits are initially only a shallow depression a few decimeters in diameter. Typical behavioral characteristics include the olfactory marking of the rut and the immediate area through urine and glandular secretions. All fallow deer passing by control these hollows and enlarge them. If the rutting pits are on rutting sites that are regularly used later, these rutting pits often reach a diameter of more than two meters. These rutting hollows are to be seen as territories of the fallow deer. The size of these territories can vary from about 100 to more than 10,000 square meters. In extreme cases, the individual rutting territories are only five or ten meters wide and between five and 25 individual rutting territories are directly adjacent to one another. This wooing from several places limited to a small place is also known as lekking and occurs much more frequently in birds than in mammals.

Group of three deer in Richmond Park, London

Confrontations with other males are often carried out solely through showing off, but fights between two equally strong males occur regularly. The fight is preceded by a ritualized behavioral sequence in which the deer initially stride parallel to each other at a distance of five to ten meters, with the head slightly turned so that they can observe the reaction of the other deer. You then toss yourself around with a quarter turn so that the antlers meet head-on. The fight is a frontal push fight in which the two fallow deer first brace each other and then push each other across the battlefield with their antlers hooked into one another. Even if the fight is basically a comment fight and not a damage fight , there are occasional serious injuries and even killings. Due to the structure of the shovel antlers with the rounded upper sides of the shovel and the particularly thick and tough skin in the head and neck area, serious injuries are much rarer than with the red deer.

The female animals seek out the rutting places of the strongest deer in small groups, but are not, as is the case with red deer , driven by the stag into a pack and prevented from leaving the rutting place. Rutting female fallow deer spend only one or two days in the rutting areas to be misted. In many populations, three quarters of all calves placed later are due to less than ten percent of the adult deer. However, individual deer also use other behaviors to achieve reproductive success. Some defend a rutting site only for a short time and then join the pack of deer that has gathered at its rutting site. Fallow deer occasionally form large, mixed packs, especially in populations where there are only a few equally strong deer. The strongest stag tries to dominate the pack and thus secure the right to mate the dams ready for mating.


The stag follows a damsel ready to mate slowly striding. The head is often tilted to the side and its snout repeatedly hits the flanks of the Damtier. The actual copulation is often preceded by between three and twenty unsuccessful attempts to jump over the damsel. The actual union only takes about two seconds. Then the damsel pulls forward a little with its back bent, the stag drops again.

The dams are only ready to mate for a short time and only a small part of the dam population mates with more than one deer during the rut.

Birth and development of the calves


Dam animals give birth to a calf for the first time at the age of two. The gestation time of the dams is 33 weeks, the setting time in Central Europe falls mainly in the month of June and is on average about 14 days later than that of the red deer. Even if there are twins and triplets, the damsel usually only puts one calf. In the individual populations, the sex ratio of the newborn calves is balanced.

Shortly before birth, the dams look for a sheltered place, during the birth process they usually lie down. The newborn calf is licked dry by the mother, about half an hour to an hour after the birth the calf sucks for the first time. The afterbirth is eaten by the mother, and it also cleans the placement area of ​​blood and embryonic envelope. Male calves weigh an average of 4.6 kilograms and female calves 4.4 kilograms at birth. Calves are able to flee a short distance as early as 24 hours after birth. They usually seek cover in cover not far away, where they curl up against the ground. The staining of their fur has a camouflaging effect , as they visually dissolve from their surroundings (so-called somatolysis ). During this phase, the mother returns to her calf, lying in cover, five to six times a day to suckle it. The milk of the dams has a fat content of 10.8 percent. In comparison, cow's milk has an average fat content of 3.5; Roe deer from 6.7 and red deer from 9.2 percent fat. With some dams the milk dries up in October and November, with others in December and January and other dams suckle their offspring until spring. Young fallow deer form groups of young people at short notice from the age of two weeks, but they always stay close to the mother animals. In these youth groups, dam calves use more playful activities to train the behavior that is important for their survival and reproduction. Elements of contact behavior are practiced with head butting and forehead rubbing, and sexual behavior with brief riding. Calves often run spontaneously in often tight curves that are mixed with expansive escapes and bouncing jumps. In completely undisturbed herds, older animals also join the calves' play for a short time. In the male animals, the playful forehead chopping develops into the mock fights of the one- and two-year-old fallow deer as a preliminary stage to the serious conflicts between older deer.


The calves begin to lose their characteristic calf markings from around the beginning of August, at the beginning of October it has completely disappeared. The body mass of the calves in November / December reaches the maximum weight of the first year of life at just under 19 kilograms. From January there is a decrease in body mass. This stagnation in growth is regulated by the body's own hormones - prolactin , testosterone , oestradiol and thyroxine . It is still unclear whether the change in hormone secretion leads to reduced feed consumption or whether the lower amount of food triggers the metabolic processes. In wild populations, the weight of the calves does not increase again until March and April, when daylight increases, the ambient temperature rises and more and more grazing is available. Towards the end of the second year of life, a weight difference of almost 20 percent between the two sexes can be determined. Damtiere reach the final values ​​of their body mass at the age of four, the body mass of the deer, on the other hand, increases up to an age of five or six years and then stagnates.

Life expectancy

Male fallow deer reach the peak of their physical development around the age of eight, after which the antlers begin to regress again. The oldest known damsel lived until the age of 32 and had its last calf at the age of 27. On average, fallow deer that are not hunted can reach an age of 15 to 20 years.

It is difficult to determine the age of fallow deer when observing the field; only calves can be easily identified by their small size. Mollusks are usually slightly smaller than adults, while older dams usually have a skinny neck, appear more bulging and sometimes have a slightly sagging back. In the male animals, the younger animals can be easily recognized by their antlers, but this is no longer possible from the age of four at the latest. Here, too, physical and behavioral characteristics provide indications of age. Middle-aged deer have a wider and darker head than young deer, the neck appears stronger, the withers are more prominent. Older deer have a short-term effect because their torso has become massive and heavy. They also have pronounced withers. They often live solitary and usually never appear in groups with more than four animals.

Causes of mortality

Resting fallow deer
Resting fallow deer

Fallow deer is considered to be a very robust game species, the population of which is almost exclusively limited by hunting under Central European conditions. Climatic factors only play a role in the border area of ​​their range. Frost and snow have an effect when they lead to a considerable shortage of food over a long period of time. In Central Europe, winters are only so severe in individual cases that they affect the population. The harsh winters of 1962/63 and 1978/79 led to a significant decline in the roe deer population in northern Germany, but the fallow deer population was hardly affected.

The mortality rate of fallow deer is highest during the first months of life, but it is low compared to that of roe deer and sika deer. On average, one in ten fallow calves dies during the first few months of life, compared with between three and five in ten fawns in roe deer.

In Central Europe, the red fox is a potential predator of the newborn calves. However, due to the early onset of flight behavior, the fox has no significant influence on the rate of reproduction of the fallow deer. In addition to the fox, ravens and wild boars also kill and eat freshly set calves. These predators are also not of great importance. Wolf and lynx are too rare in most of the fallow deer's distribution area to have a population-regulating effect. However, the presence of wolves has prevented permanent naturalization in the Baltic States and is the most important natural population regulator in Romania. Poaching domestic dogs , on the other hand, pose a more significant threat and account for between four and eleven percent of deaths. About half of all deaths are due to traffic accidents. Two behavioral peculiarities of fallow deer also lead to losses: Younger deer in particular tend to hit the antlers on pasture fences, net, twine and wire remnants lying around and occasionally get caught in them with the antler poles. In the best-case scenario, they will wear a ball of wire or thread on their antlers until the next antlers are thrown. Occasionally, however, they get caught in such a way that they cannot free themselves and then perish. Fallow deer also like to eat plastic parts lying around in the landscape, such as leftover silage film, plastic bags, twine and string. In rumen analyzes, such foreign bodies were found in 3.2% (WFG Nedlitz and Serrahn) to 38.1% (WFG Hakel) of all rumen. They can block the passage of the gastrointestinal tract and thus lead to the death of the animal.

Fallow deer can get rabies . Fallow deer infected with rabies stand out due to unnatural behavior and / or movement disorders. Anthrax used to lead to mass loss in excess of stocks; In a fallow deer infected with anthrax, death usually occurs after one to three days. One of the bacterial diseases that occasionally occur in the wild is tuberculosis , which is usually of the bovine type . Fallow deer are attacked by flukes such as large and small liver fluke , tapeworms and nematodes . As a parasite, nematodes are of greatest importance to fallow deer. The infestation with lungworms as the Great lung worm runs usually benign. Death usually only occurs when the organism is additionally weakened by other causes.


Two subspecies are sometimes distinguished:

  • The European fallow deer ( Dama dama dama ) was originally native to Asia Minor and possibly also to southern Europe. Today this subspecies is introduced in large areas of Europe and other parts of the world.
Mesopotamian fallow deer
  • The Mesopotamian fallow deer ( Dama dama mesopotamica ) originally came from the Middle East and especially in Mesopotamia . In some modern classifications , this subspecies is also regarded as a separate species ( Dama mesopotamica ). The Mesopotamian fallow deer is slightly larger than the European, the coat is generally a bit darker, the blades are less pronounced and more indented. The tail is less long than that of the European fallow deer and does not show the characteristic black central line.
The ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, such as Sumerians and Assyrians , knew it as a sacrificial animal, but later it was forgotten. It was not until 1875 that he was rediscovered in southwestern Iran by the British Vice Consul Robertson. Some specimens came to England and also had offspring. However, shortly after the turn of the century there was no longer any Mesopotamian fallow deer in Europe.
After that he was not found again until 1955, on behalf of the IUCN, the American researcher Lee Merriam Talbot traveled to the Middle East. This reported a deer occurrence in the province of Chusistan . Georg von Opel then financed an expedition by the German zoologists Theodor Haltorth and Werner Trense with the aim of finding and preserving the Mesopotamian fallow deer. In 1957 Trense was able to locate a herd between the Dez and Karche rivers . Three specimens ended up in the Opel Zoo in Kronberg , Hesse , and the breeding group was subsequently supplemented by further catches. In Persia, too, an enclosure for breeding Mesopotamian fallow deer was created through a private initiative.
In the First Gulf War he was again almost exterminated; the Iranian authorities have captured the last of this herd and raised a semi-wild population of 140 animals from them to save the species. There are also Mesopotamian fallow deer in some European zoos , for example in Tierpark Berlin , which until 2013 also kept the studbook for this animal species. Since then, the Kronberg Opel Zoo has kept the stud book. The total population was estimated at only about 340 animals in 2004, which is why the subspecies is classified as endangered. Embryo transfer and artificial insemination are also used in New Zealand to preserve this subspecies. Embryos of pure-blooded Mesopotamian fallow deer are carried by dams, which are a cross between Mesopotamian and European fallow deer.
In the meantime, Mesopotamian fallow deer have been released into the wild in large enclosures or on islands (for example in Lake Urmia ) in Iran. In addition, there are also two populations in the northern part of Israel, one in the Nahal Kziv nature reserve and another in the Chai Bar Karmel wildlife park .

Tribal history

A number of medium-sized fossil deer have been described from the Pliocene and Pleistocene of Eurasia, which various authors ascribed to the genera Axis , Cervus , Dama and Pseudodama , among which the line leading to the recent fallow deer is to be assumed. The genus Dama has been detectable in Europe since the late Pliocene with the species Dama rhenana , of which there are finds from the Rhineland ( Tegelen ), France and Greece. This species had three-pointed antlers without scoops. Finds from Italy, France and Great Britain are assigned to the Old Pleistocene Dama nestii and Dama roberti . These, like all fossil species, can only be found in warm-period sediments; they disappeared in central and northern Europe in the ice ages, but survive in southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and Anatolia. Species with the shovel-shaped antlers of the recent genus Dama appear in the late Middle Pleistocene in England ( Clacton-on-Sea ) with the subspecies Dama dama clactoniana . Finds from the Geiseltal (Saxony-Anhalt), which are placed in the Eem or a Saale-Ice Age interstadial and include at least 80, partly complete skeletons, were described as a separate subspecies Dama dama geiselana . The animals lived there on the edge of a lake and probably died from poisoning with a periodic bloom of cyanobacteria in the water. These fossil species reached significantly larger body sizes than recent fallow deer.

The dwarf form Dama carburangelensis lived on the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Malta in the Pleistocene .

Fallow deer and human

Gate maintenance

Feeding fallow deer in an animal park
Fallow deer in a British chateau park

Fallow deer are considered to be very suitable for keeping as they are frugal, become familiar with people and show a largely compatible behavior with one another. Fallow deer are therefore often kept in parks that are open to visitors all year round. It is occasionally kept together with other animal species such as mouflons . When visitors are feeding the animals, fallow deer occasionally attack humans. This aggressive behavior is almost entirely due to food envy. Most of the time, the deer hit the feeder with their antlers in order to demand more food.

In addition to being kept in show enclosures , fallow deer are also kept like livestock . Between 10 and 20 fallow deer per hectare are kept on such deer farms with intensive pasture management and year-round additional feeding. This attitude is primarily used for the production of game . There are also sales markets for the bast skin that covers the growing antlers. In the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, animals kept for meat production are not regarded as farm animals, but as captured, wild animals. The agricultural calculation unit of the fallow deer production unit (PED) corresponds to 0.165 units in the more common livestock unit. A PED consists of a female adult and the arithmetically average number of offspring and male deer. Fallow deer keeping is of particular economic importance in New Zealand . Although her game than that of the red deer is considered superior, they are rarely kept as red deer Your Bast has a lower value than that of red deer, they are more volatile than this, more prone to eczema and slaughter costs are higher. At the beginning of the 21st century, around 8,000 animals were slaughtered annually, which is about one percent of New Zealand's annual game meat export.

Game damage

Fallow deer trying to get hold of the leaves of a tree
Wise area for assessing the influence of wildlife on natural regeneration - note the lack of
regeneration outside the fence

Fallow deer causes browsing , peeling and sweeping damage to forest and field crops, garden plants, fruit trees and other crops. Fallow deer, for example, love to eat flowers: they are still grazing pansies when they are still in bloom and have a particular fondness for rose buds. They can therefore cause considerable damage if they enter plant nurseries. Sweeping damage occurs when fallow deer sweep individual young trees or drooping branches of older trees with their antlers during the rut. For sweeping, fallow deer prefer the tree species that are rarer in the area, such as spruce and juniper in pine areas or larch and Douglas fir in deciduous forest areas. In general, browsing and sweeping damage to the various cultures cannot be clearly assigned to fallow deer, as roe deer and red deer also cause this. One of the essential measures to reduce such damage is a low game density and an improvement in the natural range of grazing. Feeding in times when there is little grazing is also one of the measures to keep game damage to a minimum.

Furthermore, fallow deer are the game species that cause accidents particularly frequently in road traffic. From the point of view of the motorist, fallow deer are the most dangerous cloven-hoofed game species. The measures that are taken in many European countries also because of other game species are effective to prevent road accidents. The highest losses occur in the rutting season, that is, in the months of October and November. Usually it is the males who cross the streets without caution during the rutting season. The diurnal fallow deer is run over particularly frequently during the day. The erection of fences on busy roads is considered to be the most effective protective measure. However, the establishment of game fences isolates populations from one another. Therefore, there should be overpasses or underpasses at the same time, which allow dam and other game to change. The green bridges that are built at traditional game passes are particularly effective . However, they are particularly expensive to create. But fallow deer also accept so-called game tunnels particularly well.

Fallow deer as game

Early history and antiquity - sacrificial animal

In southern Europe the fallow deer was hunted by people from the Stone and Bronze Age. Among other things, a high proportion of fallow deer bones can be found in the finds of some settlements from this period in the southern Balkans. Hittite depictions from the 2nd millennium BC can also be found in the area of ​​today's Turkey. Chr. Deer representations that can be interpreted as fallow deer.

The spotted fur of the fallow deer was seen as a reflection of the starry sky. With the Phoenicians the fallow deer was therefore the preferred sacrificial animal in the cult around the god Baal-Hammon . The Greeks preferred to dedicate fallow deer to the goddess Artemis. In order to keep fallow deer available at all times, they were kept in special enclosures very early. The Phoenician and Greek colonization in the Mediterranean area between the 11th and 6th centuries led to the fact that the fallow deer were reintroduced in the coastal regions of what is now Marseilles, in the area of Carthage and Spain, where the fallow deer were probably extinct in the wild. How big the role of the fallow deer was in the cult of the Roman goddess Diana has not been conclusively clarified. However, fallow deer were used during the strong expansion of the Roman Empire between the 1st century BC. And the 3rd century AD introduced throughout Roman rule, as shown by bone finds from excavations in Switzerland, southern Germany, England and Hungary.

Hunt today

The current distribution of fallow deer in Europe is due to its introduction as hunting game. Similar to the red deer, fallow deer are suitable for parforce hunting . This form of hunting, in which the game is chased with horses and packs of dogs, has been banned in Germany since 1934. In Great Britain, fallow deer were last hunted in 1997 in the New Forest.

The fallow deer hardly has any natural enemies in Central Europe today. In order to prevent an uncontrolled increase in populations, the growth rate of the population is therefore of essential importance. As soon as the population has reached the desired height, as many fallow deer have to be shot annually as the rate of increase of the respective population shows. Usually between 20 and 35 percent of the population is hunted in the fall. Half of the male and half female fallow deer are shot today. Fallow deer are subject to closed seasons, which are based on the setting times of the game, but can vary slightly depending on the state and / or federal state. Usually fallow deer are hunted from September to the end of January. Two-year-old fallow deer can be shot as early as July.

The fallow deer are mainly hunted individually. Hunting types are stalking and high seat hunting . The driven hunt is less promising for fallow deer because, unlike the red deer, it does not keep its switch. The trophy is assessed according to the CIC formula.


Female in summer coat

Since the fallow deer is one of the more frequently hunted animal species in German-speaking countries, extensive hunting terminology has developed, some of which has found its way into general usage through fiction . The male animal is generally referred to as fallow deer. The age of the deer is already differentiated in the name. This is how the young deer calf is called, the adult one-year-old stag Spießer, the second head is a knee, the third head is a spoonbill, followed by the half-scoop, the full-scoop and the capital-scoop. The species as such is also regularly referred to as fallow deer.

The adult female animal is usually called damsel, more rarely also old animal or damalt animal. In the hunter's language only the term animal or - only in the plural - deer is used. Young animals are called calves in their first year of life, with male young animals being called fallow deer calves and female fallow deer calves. The term Damspießer describes a male whose antlers only consist of two rods that are not angled or spread out. Such antlers are typical of fallow deer from the first head, but can also occur in older deer. Female animals in the second year of life are called damselfish.

The other names are the same as for the red deer. The legs are called runs, the impression of a run on the ground is called a step, several steps standing one behind the other form a track. The mating season at the end of October is called the rut, and the period in which the calves are born is called the settling time. When a damsel gives birth to a calf, one speaks of “setting”. The coat is called the blanket, the white or light-colored spot around the anus is the so-called mirror .


Web links

Wiktionary: Fallow deer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Fallow Deer ( Dama dama )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

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