|Linnaeus , 1758|
The red deer ( Cervus elaphus ), hunter linguistically deer and rarely also red deer called, is a kind of genuine deer . Among the deer species, the red deer, also called deer for short (from Middle High German hirz ), is characterized by particularly large and widely branched antlers . These antlers, popular as a hunting trophy , are only developed by males. The female animals ( adult animals ) do not develop antlers and are therefore referred to as deer . The red deer is one of the largest wild animals in Central Europe. Here it occurs almost exclusively in forest biotopes. Originally, however, the red deer is a species of open and semi-open landscapes.
Red deer are common in several subspecies in Eurasia . The North American elk have long been classified as a subspecies of the red deer, but are now listed as a separate species together with East Asian red deer.
Since the red deer or generally the red deer is one of the most frequently hunted animal species , an extensive hunting terminology, the hunter's language, has developed, which has found its way into the general language partly through centuries of practice and fiction . Some of the most common terms are explained below.
Female animals are referred to as hind , poetically outdated hind or hind , but for hunting as animal or deer (only in the plural), and the young animal as calf . A female who has already given birth or, technically speaking, set a calf is known as an adult . A leading adult is an adult that is accompanied by this year's calf. Female red deer in the second year of life that are not pregnant and have no offspring are called critters . Barren or old, no longer settling hinds are called animals .
Male red deer is called stag. Deer are differentiated according to the number of ends of their antlers . A twelve-fender is a red deer, for example, in which at least one antler rod has six ends or rungs. If this is the case with both antler poles, one speaks of an "even" twelve-point, one of the two poles has fewer ends, of an "odd" one. The antlers sit on short front cones, the so-called rose bushes . Every year the stag builds new antlers on these rose bushes after throwing off the stems from the previous year in February (old name: Hornung ). Young male deer whose antlers are not yet ramified are called philistines . The philistine becomes a forker, i. that is, the rod is shaped into a fork. A stag with three ends per pole becomes a six, with four an eight, etc. A stag with at least three ends at the end of the pole has a crown and is therefore called a crown deer. This development does not always have to be done in chronological order: there can already be young deer with advanced antler development. Depending on age and pole development, deer are divided into hunting classes and hunted or spared accordingly. A goal of hunting development in all hunting laws of the federal states is the development of mature deer, which correspond to the conservation goal .
The fur is known as the blanket and is divided into summer blankets and winter blankets . Lights is the name for the eyes, the ears are also called eavesdroppers , and the nose is a vestibule . Wedel as a name for the tail and Äser for the mouth are also naturalized terms. The mating season, in which the roaring of the deer can often be heard from afar , is called the rut .
Height and weight
The red deer is one of the larger deer species, although there are sometimes considerable differences in body size between the subspecies . As a rule, the head-torso length of males is 180 to 205 centimeters, that of the females 165 to 180 centimeters, plus a 14 to 16 centimeter long tail. The shoulder height is accordingly 105 to 130 or 95 to 115 centimeters. The weight also fluctuates considerably. Particularly small deer live in Sardinia and Corsica. There they only reach a weight of up to 80 kilograms. The heaviest individuals have so far been observed in the Carpathian Mountains and Bulgaria, where males can weigh up to 350 kilograms and females up to 200 kilograms. Adult males are usually 10 to 15 percent larger and 50 to 70% heavier than adult female red deer (hinds).
There are also significant differences in weight within the subspecies common in Central Europe. In the resin , Reinhardswald and the region Westphalia scored ten years deer weighed on average 100 to 113 kilograms. In Valais, however, deer of the same age weighed 148 kilograms and in the area around Hohenbucko , Brandenburg , deer shot 168 kilograms. However, red deer are already subject to considerable weight differences over the course of the year: male deer usually reach their maximum annual weight shortly before the rut and then lose up to 25 percent of their body weight during the rut. Different nutritional conditions and climatic influences contribute to the size and weight differences between individual populations of the same subspecies. Basically, the height and weight of the red deer increase from western and north-western Europe with an oceanic climate towards eastern and south-eastern Europe with a continental climate. These differences in size correspond to Bergmann's rule , which states that warm-blooded animals of a species are on average larger in colder climates.
Special features of the physique
The red deer has a broad chest, a relatively long, slender neck and a head that is narrowed towards the front. The tail is 10 to 27 centimeters long and narrowed towards the tip. The red deer has medium-sized eyes (lights), pointed ears (eavesdroppers) half the length of the head and tall, slender feet (legs). The dewclaws do not touch the ground during normal movement. The spine is straight and shows the red deer as a runner type. Red deer who feel threatened flee quickly and persistently. They only gallop over short distances. The normal running form on the run is a far-reaching and energy-saving trot. The roe deer, on the other hand, which is assigned to the hatchery type, has a slightly curved and sloping spine. It seldom uses the trot as a running form: if it is disturbed it usually looks for cover in the thicket with a few quick leaps.
The deer set consists of 34 teeth. In the upper jaw are missing incisors . On each side of the jaw there are one canine tooth ( Grandeln ) and three premolar teeth, the so-called premolars, and three back teeth , the molars. There is a gap between the canine and molar teeth called the diastema. The structure of the lower jaw corresponds to the upper jaw. Here, however, three incisors are also formed on each side of the jaw. Incisors, canines and the premolars are initially formed as milk teeth and replaced by permanent teeth by the age of 25. The back three molars appear as permanent teeth.
Red deer have a number of scent glands whose scent signals play a role in social life. The pre-eye gland (also tear pits or anorbital organ), which is peculiar to all deer wearing antlers, is striking . Pre-eye glands secrete a foul-smelling, brownish secretion, the so-called deer tears, which the animals wipe off by rubbing on trees or bushes to mark them, especially during the rutting season. Another olfactory gland is the metatarsal organ , which is located on the outside of the hind legs just below the ankle. The secretion of this gland is stripped off the low vegetation so that deer leave a scent trail. The circumcaudal organ or frond gland is located in the deer near the base of the tail. It swells a lot during the rut. By nibbling and licking, red deer distribute the secretion of this gland in their hair. Even the antlers, which are still covered with raffia, have numerous scent glands that secrete a yellowish-brown secretion. This secretion is stripped off on twigs and blades of grass and leaves a very permanent scent trail.
The color of the coat varies depending on the season, gender and age. Apart from the whiskers on the mouth, all hair is changed twice a year.
In Central Europe, summer fur begins to grow in May to June. It has a reddish-brown hazelnut tone that is characteristic of the red deer. In September to October, the majority of red deer change to a gray-yellow to gray-brown winter coat. In older deer, this change of coat can start as early as August. The winter coat is more shaggy compared to the summer coat and has a thicker woolen hair under the guard hairs. Winter hair is on average twice as long as summer hair. While summer hair has an oval cross-section, winter hair is round and hollow, creating a warm air cushion. The hair of the calves is reddish brown with rows of white spots. These so-called calf stains are covered by hair that grows back over the course of the summer months.
Many red deer have an eel line from the neck to the base of the tail . It is characteristic of all red deer that the back of the thigh is clearly different from the rest of the coat color. The color of this so-called mirror is gray-white to yellowish-white. The mirror is framed by blackish hair and thus clearly set off from the rest of the back. In the male red deer, the scrotum is also often very light in color. The mirror emits a signaling effect, especially when fleeing, which holds the pack together.
The male red deer native to Western and Northern Europe grows a neck mane before the rut, which can be up to fifteen centimeters long on the front neck. Regardless of their subspecies, these deer are classified as the so-called elaphoid type. In contrast, the deer of the maraloid type native to south-eastern Europe are almost or completely mane-less. Male deer also have dark, curled, or wavy forehead hair.
Deviating coat colors also occur in the wild. The white speckle, which is typical for calves, is occasionally noticeably weakened in adult red deer. In some populations, some of the animals have a white blaze on the head, or they are colored white on the pasterns.
Even pure white animals can be observed in the wild in rare cases. In game enclosures and gates, such color mutations, which are also referred to as blesswild, are sometimes specifically maintained. In contrast to roe deer or fallow deer , where animals with a black coat are more common, melanism is extremely rare in red deer.
In the Reinhardswald in northern Hesse, an estimated 50 animals in the 1000 deer population are white. Genetic studies show that 16 and 26 percent, respectively, carry the "white gene" in two areas. Only if both parents carry it will the youngster know, which happens about twice a year. The white animals are not protected, but are not shot out of hunter's "superstition".
The antlers are shed annually by the male animals, depending on their age, between February and April, a new formation starts again shortly thereafter and is completed in approx. 5 months (140 days). The older the deer, the more likely it is to throw off antlers. Deer with large antlers develop bone substance weighing four to five kilograms within these four months. On average, the antlers are 90 to 105 centimeters long (per pole) and weigh 6 to 6.5 kilograms (including the skull). Exceptionally large antlers measure between 130 and 140 centimeters and weigh 18 to 21 kilograms. A particularly large specimen from Germany, the antlers of which weighed 15.55 kg, was shot in September 2014 in Duvenstedter Brook near Hamburg.
In the winter of their first year of life, deer calves develop the so-called rose bush, a short cylindrical extension of the frontal bone. Towards the end of the first year of life, this is in the form of two small bumps, from which the first unbranched antlers, the so-called skewers, develop in the course of the summer months. These often do not protrude beyond the tip of the ear, but they can reach a length of 40 centimeters even with particularly good nutrition. These skewers are thrown off in the spring of the following year, when the deer has reached the end of its second year of life, and the new antlers begin to form immediately. Depending on predisposition and environmental conditions, the young deer can grow unbranched and relatively small sticks or so-called forked antlers. Occasionally, young deer develop into a figure eight at this point. With fork antlers, the antlers branch out for the first time; the so-called eye shoot develops. The antlers are generally built up at the tips of the rods and the ends. Under ideal conditions, both the length of the antler rods, the antler weight and the number of ends tend to increase up to around the age of twelve. Deer rarely have more than 20 ends on their antlers. However, it cannot be inferred from the end number of a deer about its age, as the development of antlers is determined by other factors.
During their growth phase, the antlers are covered with a hairy skin, the so-called bast skin. Bast skin differs from body skin only in that it lacks sweat glands and straightening hair muscles. This bast, like the antlers that are still growing, has blood vessels running through it. As they grow, the antlers ossify and finally the bast skin also loses its nourishing function. For adult deer, antler growth is complete in Europe by July to early August, and the deer begin to remove the bast skin by sweeping the antlers on branches, bushes and dry parts of plants. The bast skin, which is still supplied with blood, occasionally hangs down from the antlers in bloody streaks.
A freshly swept antler is characterized by a light color. Only in the next few weeks does the antler color change to a light brown to black-brown tone. Which color develops depends on the plants used for sweeping and their differently colored juices.
The antlers are thrown at a time when testosterone levels have reached their lowest level. Before shedding, the cell layer between the rose bush and the antler rod is again supplied with blood. This loosens the connection between the pole and the rose bush to such an extent that bumping it with the antlers or, in the case of large antlers, the weight of the antler poles makes them fall off.
It has not yet been adequately clarified why deer shed their antlers every year and thus enter into the exhausting build-up of new antlers. Wildlife biologist Wilfried Bützler suggests that young deer are not able to develop lifelong useful antlers because their physical development has not yet been completed. They would only be able to do this once they have completed their physical development. According to Bützler, a biological growth program that only allowed antler formation at this point in time was more difficult to develop from an evolutionary perspective than an annual antler formation.
Red deer have a number of different tones. The best known is the roaring of the male deer during the rut, which can be heard in autumn. The function and the sound pattern is discussed in the Rutting chapter .
When suckling, the calf makes so-called "comfort sounds" - short, nasal sounds that it emits rhythmically. The begging sounds with which a hungry calf calls for its mother are also nasal. The pitch of the voice drops slightly at the end. With the so-called exit sounds, the call is high at the beginning and then drops sharply. A shrill, plaintive cry can be heard when the calves feel threatened. Mother animals are able to recognize their calves by their voice.
Red deer make short barking scare sounds when they are disturbed by events whose cause they cannot identify. They are created by violently expelling air. Usually it is old animals that make this sound.
In the red deer, all senses are very well developed, including the sense of smell. He is one of the so-called macrosmatists , as a high proportion of the nasal mucous membrane is covered with an olfactory epithelium ( olfactory mucous membrane ).
As a rule, red deer move against the wind when they move onto their grazing areas. They seek resting places in such a way that the wind either gyrates there or blows mainly from the enemy direction. The olfactory orientation can also be seen in other behavioral patterns: the red deer often bypasses potential enemies in a wide circle until the wind blows from their direction. If a red deer cannot yet classify a source of smell, it raises and lowers its head with slightly open mouth and moving nose to take in the weather. When the wind conditions are favorable, a red deer can perceive human weather at a distance of a few hundred meters.
The side-facing eyes with the large oval pupils allow the red deer to see a wide area without turning their head. They react particularly to movements. In contrast, the ability to recognize stationary objects is not very well developed. The highly expandable pupils make it possible to see well even during twilight.
Red deer are able to move their ears independently of each other. You can therefore locate the direction from which noises are coming very precisely. They also learn to get used to certain noises and to classify them as harmless so that they cannot flee over longer distances. These include, for example, the noises made by forest workers' chainsaws or talking hikers who stay on the paths.
The so-called “belaying” involves the three senses working together, and the red deer checks with its nose, eyes and ears whether there are any dangers lurking for it. He assumes a tense posture in which the neck is erect and the ears are pointed. The eyes are wide open. The animal's excitement is also expressed in a step-like and rapid movement. Persistent red deer often angle one of the forelegs. The tense body posture allows the animal to toss around and flee quickly as soon as it has identified something as potentially threatening.
Distribution and subspecies
The distribution area of the red deer includes Europe, West Asia , Central Asia and North Africa.
The red deer-rich countries in Europe include Great Britain with a distribution focus in England and Scotland , the Federal Republic of Germany , Austria and Spain . In Austria he has expanded his settlement area in the last few decades. In Switzerland the red deer was extinct around 1850. Red deer immigrated again in the following decades via Alpine passes such as the Kleine Furka , the Schweizertor and the Schesaplana . By 1925 the population had recovered to such an extent that the animals in Graubünden were viewed as a nuisance. According to the German Wildlife Foundation, around 220,000 red deer live in Germany .
Poland , the Czech Republic , Slovakia , Serbia , Hungary , Croatia , Bosnia and Romania also have high stocks . France , Italy , Greece , Belgium , Ireland , the Netherlands , Norway and Sweden have only small stocks. The stocks in Corsica and Sardinia are considered threatened.
In Eastern Europe, the red deer distribution area is still largely contiguous. A strongly fragmented distribution with sometimes very small occurrences is characteristic of Western Europe. The German main areas of distribution are the low mountain ranges as well as the Alps and the Alpine foothills . Larger traffic routes as well as heavily populated areas sometimes prevent genetic exchange between the individual distribution areas.
A distinction is made between the following subspecies, which have also been largely confirmed by genetic studies.
- European red deer Cervus elaphus elaphus : Continental Europe and British Isles, while the subspecies is quite common in northwestern Europe, stocks in the Mediterranean countries have declined sharply. Red deer are quite common in Great Britain, but here the introduction of North American elk deer ( Cervus canadensis ) and Japanese sika deer ( Cervus nippon ) has led to a mixture, so that there are hardly any pure European red deer left there.
- Berber deer ( Cervus elaphus barbarus ): North Africa, hunted as early as Roman times, in the end only scattered animals were left in the Atlas . Lately the populations in Algeria , Morocco and Tunisia have increased again to 5000, so that the IUCN currently only lists the Berber deer as "low risk".
- Corsican, Sardinian or Tyrrhenian red deer ( Cervus elaphus corsicanus ): Corsica and Sardinia . However, it has not been clarified whether this is actually a naturally occurring subspecies or whether it comes from red deer that was introduced to the mainland in ancient times . Genetically, this subspecies hardly differs from the North African Berber deer. Around 200 animals still live in Sardinia and are threatened by habitat destruction and hunting. This subspecies was completely extinct in Corsica, but deer have since been introduced from Sardinia.
- Caucasian deer or Caucasus maral ( Cervus elaphus maral ) lives in the Caucasus as well as in Anatolia and south of the Caspian Sea.
- Cervus elaphus italicus was described by Frank E. Zachos and research colleagues in 2014 and lives in the Mesola region in Italy.
The Central Asian forms of red deer ( Cervus ) form a relatively original page group of red deer genetic results indicated that they are Western Cervus elaphus group (red deer) significantly closer than the eastern Cervus canadensis group (elk). Originally considered a subspecies of the red deer or elk, they were listed as a separate species in 2011 during a revision of the ungulates by Colin P. Groves and Peter Grubb . However, two genetic studies from 2015 and 2018 summarize the three forms under one species with three subspecies. The species bears the scientific name Cervus hanglu , Chinese red deer was proposed as a common German name in 2020 . Accordingly, the Chinese red deer consists of the following subspecies:
- Bukhara deer ( Cervus hanglu bactrianus ); formerly a subspecies of the red deer; Afghanistan , Kazakhstan , Turkmenistan , Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ; endangered.
- Jarken Deer ( Cervus hanglu yarkandensis ); formerly a subspecies of the red deer; Xinjiang ; was already declared extinct, but we now know of about 5,000 animals living in the Tarim Basin ; endangered.
- Cashmere deer ( Cervus hanglu hanglu ); formerly assigned to a species that also included various East Asian elk as Cervus wallichii and was also called "China Red Deer" in German; Cashmere ; endangered.
Red deer as an introduced species
Red deer have been introduced in a number of countries. Countries in which red deer have established themselves as a neozoon include Australia , Argentina , Chile , the USA , Canada and New Zealand . The experiences that have been made with this introduced species are different.
In 1904, hunting enthusiasts first imported red deer from the Carpathian Mountains and the Austrian Alps to Argentina, in order to establish them as hunting game on their extensive farms. The stocks in Chile are essentially derived from these imports. Starting from these farms, red deer have established themselves as wild game species in Chile and Argentina. At the end of the 1980s, the population in Chile was 4,200 animals on an area of around 340,000 hectares. These red deer are legally allowed to be hunted on the grounds of designated hunting farms. They are also poached in large numbers. Negative effects on biodiversity in Chile and Argentina are not assumed because of the generally low number of individuals and the low population density.
In Australia, acclimatization societies introduced red deer alongside other deer species as early as the 19th century. However, the climatic conditions in Australia prevented this species from experiencing a population increase comparable to that of the water buffalo . Red deer occur in small, isolated populations without seriously affecting the fauna of Australia . For individual national parks, a negative correlation between the occurrence of deer and kangaroos is assumed only because of food competition .
The situation is different in New Zealand, where climatic conditions favored the spread of red deer on both New Zealand islands. The first successful introduction to New Zealand took place in 1854 on the South Island, most of the reintroduction of animals imported from Europe took place between 1890 and 1910, the last took place in 1926 on the North Island. Red deer have a direct and indirect negative impact on New Zealand's biodiversity. Through their grazing behavior, they contribute to the erosion of slopes, permanently change the plant structure and promote the spread of introduced plant species such as thistles, ragwort and species of clematis. The damage caused by red deer in New Zealand was recognized very early: as early as the 1930s, the New Zealand government tried to reduce the red deer population by culling . A sustainable reduction in the population density did not occur until the 1960s, when marketing opportunities for New Zealand venison were increasingly developed and at the same time, the use of helicopters made it possible to shoot in regions that were previously inaccessible but rich in red deer. The development of sales markets in Europe and Asia led to the establishment of deer farms on New Zealand from 1970, where red deer are kept like animals. Due to their harmful effects as a neobiota, red deer are among the 100 most dangerous neobiota worldwide.
Red deer prefer habitats with a close intermeshing of structured forests, thickets and large open clearings . But they can also survive well in primeval forest-like closed and nutrient-poor forest areas or almost tree-free landscape such as in Scotland . Since the red deer is found in the cold high altitudes of the Alps , in the damp floodplains of Southeast Europe and in the hot and dry lowlands of Spain , it can be considered an adaptable species in terms of its habitat requirements. This is also proven by the successful settlement as neozoon in countries such as Chile , Argentina and New Zealand .
In Central Europe the free choice of habitat for the red deer is severely restricted due to the dense human population. Since the red deer avoids humans, it can be found here predominantly in forest biotopes and there concentrates on the forest areas where it is least exposed to human contact. In Germany, hunting law also differentiates between red deer areas and red deer-free areas. In the latter, those who are authorized to hunt are prohibited by law from keeping the red deer. Known old long-distance movements of red deer between the red deer areas are not given any special protection. From a biological point of view, today's Central European red deer areas are island-like retreats. The exchange between the various red deer areas, which is necessary for the genetic diversity of the red deer population, is not guaranteed either by law or by spatial planning. There are also no migrations between winter and summer settlements, which were originally characteristic of this deer and played a major role in its food acquisition. In individual areas, this can lead to a high density of game with a corresponding damage to the forest. This forest damage is discussed in more detail in the chapter on red deer and humans .
The red 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 ”. The latter type includes, for example, the deer , which is dependent on high-quality food. Red deer ingest between eight and twenty kilograms of green grazing every day. The high fluctuation arises on the one hand due to the different quality of the food plants eaten and a seasonally fluctuating food requirement. Fawn or suckling deer, as well as deer whose antlers are growing, have a particularly high need for food.
The relatively large rumen in relation to body size with a capacity of up to 25 liters enables the red deer to digest food that is rich in cellulose and poor in nutrients such as tree bark and grass. Grass, herbs, crops of all kinds such as turnips and potatoes, which are dug up with the forelegs, acorns , beechnuts , chestnuts , fruit , various mushrooms , tree bark , moss , lichens , heather , buds and young branches of trees and bushes are also part of his Food spectrum. Individual studies in Europe have shown that more than 90 percent of the plant species occurring in the study area are used as food. Only a few sour grasses, mosses and red foxgloves , black mullein , wild teasel and field thistle are avoided .
The presence of red deer can have a profound effect on the abundance of plant species. When comparing areas inaccessible to red deer with adjacent areas on which red deer could graze, a complete disappearance of species such as the common ash , field maple , whitebeam and willow was found, which thrived well on the adjacent protected areas. Species such as vetch , wood chickweed and ear willow were much more common on these fenced-in areas . Red deer show such a typical food preference that the density of the red deer can be inferred from the displacement of certain plants. The problems that feeding behavior means for natural forest regeneration are dealt with in the section Damage caused by red deer .
Outside of the rutting season, the feeding behavior dominates the daily rhythm of the red deer. In territories without external disturbances, grazing times alternate relatively evenly with periods of rest, in which the animals doze and chew the plants they have taken in. The first grazing period is early in the morning, the last around midnight. The red deer spend about seven to ten hours a day with grazing and about five to six hours with ruminating. In areas where there are frequent disturbances by humans, on the other hand, the red deer can be found predominantly on open grazing areas at dusk and at night.
When grazing, red deer chew their food very superficially at first. Resting deer choke up the food pulp in the rumen, chew it again and swallow it down again. This process can be repeated several times until the food is sufficiently chopped up. Food, which has already been sufficiently chopped up, first gets through a gullet into the leaf stomach, from where the thickened food pulp reaches the abomasum , where the actual digestion takes place.
The solution of the red deer consists exclusively of the undigested residues of vegetable food and is accordingly fibrous . It is firm and rather small and is often found near feeding places and in clearings.
Way of life
Red deer are basically social animals that form groups or packs. The wildlife biologist Wilfried Bützler describes the coexistence of the red deer with its conspecifics as the dominant element of its existence. The individual packs are true to their location. Only strong concern leads to the fact that packs leave their territory. The size of the individual pack is basically dependent on the habitat. In regions with a high proportion of open spaces or even completely open landscapes, the packs are usually larger than in pure forest biotopes. In Europe, too, herds of red deer can be found, comprising 200 animals. The closely related elk in North America even form packs of more than 1000 animals.
Apart from the rutting season, adult animals live in packs that are separated by sex. Only very old deer are exceptionally solitary.
Bald deer pack
The so-called deer packs are usually composed of several mother families, each of which consists of an adult, a yearling and a calf. Shortly before the birth of this year's calf, the old animals separate from the pack and then drive away the yearlings that follow them; As a rule, especially female yearlings rejoin the adult after giving birth. In male yearlings, the bond with the mother usually ends during the second year of life; they join a pack of deer. The point in time from which the mother bond ends in the bald deer is less clear. The close bond with the mother animal probably ends at the point in time when it first gives birth to a calf itself. However, the female offspring often remain in the further mating area of their maternal relatives and sometimes even stay together in the same pack.
Compared to the deer pack, the composition of a deer pack is relatively stable. It is characteristic of deer packs that they follow a leader who chooses the direction when pulling and is followed by the others. This is what is known as passive leadership, i.e. the majority of animals voluntarily follow the actions of an individual animal. Apart from its own calf, it is not relevant for this individual animal whether the other members of the pack follow it. The leading animal role therefore falls to the adult animal, which is particularly attentive and suspicious and reacts the fastest to dangers. His warning and alarm calls are motivated by the care drive for the calf and are only aimed at their own offspring. However, the rest of the pack follows the actions of this old animal by transmitting its mood. Leading animal roles are accordingly only performed by adult animals that lead calves.
The male animals form what are known as deer packs. According to the age structure of the red deer population, the proportion of young to medieval deer predominates in these herds. Deer that are over 10 years old sometimes live solitary or only accompanied by another, somewhat younger deer as a side deer.
Deer packs are more unstable in their composition than deer packs. As a rule, at the start of the rut, deer older than five and therefore capable of reproduction migrate to the rutting places. Larger packs of deer, in which the rutting deer are also gathered, do not form again until the beginning of winter. The social ranking within these deer herds is determined through threatening and imposing duels as well as in combative disputes. An individual stag “knows” which animals are superior and which are inferior. Although there is a clear, social ranking, there is no pack leader who corresponds to the leader of the deer pack. The social hierarchy within a pack can change several times until the next rut. The shedding of antlers, which occurs first in the older deer, is usually associated with a loss of rank. If the younger deer have also lost their antlers, there are again battles for ranking, which this time are fought with the front legs. The animals stand up on their hind legs. During the time in which deer free their adult antlers from the bast skin by sweeping, there are usually again fighting conflicts, in which this time the antlers are used.
The mating season begins in Central Europe in early September and lasts five to six weeks. In the Alpine highlands and Scotland, however, the rut does not start until October. Already towards the end of August the older male deer separate from the deer packs and seek out the deer packs. The key factor here is the hormonal cycle that makes older deer ready for mating first. On the hike to the rutting territories, the deer sometimes cover longer distances. It is documented that a deer wandered over a distance of 120 kilometers. The rutting territory (also called rutting place) is usually a preferred flat grazing point for the pack of deer, such as a forest clearing.
At the beginning of the rut, several deer can still be around a pack of deer; after threats and initial fights, only the strongest stag among them remains in the vicinity of the deer pack. It is known as the top deer, while the deer that stay at a greater distance are called the near deer.
It is characteristic of the top dog that it often drives back female animals that move away from the pack. To do this, he overtakes the retreating animal and strides in front of him in an imposing pose. Characteristic of this imposing posture is a rocking stabbing step and a raised head with its mouth pointing upwards. This behavior is also known as canine threats. It is also found in more primitive deer species such as muntjac and water deer , which still have canine teeth that have developed into weapons. The upper canines of the red deer have regressed; however, the behavior has remained the same. The antlers, on the other hand, are only used threateningly towards the female animals. In principle, however, the top dog does not take on a leadership role in the rutting pack. He only stays in the vicinity of a pack of deer, which is still following his lead animal.
The olfactory marking of the rut territory through urine and glandular secretions is also one of the typical behavioral characteristics of the top dog. The urine of the deer contains the sex pheromone androsterone , which smells so intensely that it can also be perceived by humans at the height of the rut. Scratching, the battle-like forking of the ground with the antlers and extensive wallowing are also typical behaviors of the top dog.
The stag follows the rutting animals of the pack of deer with its head stretched forward. Only when the female is ready to mate does it stop with a slightly curved back, angled hind legs and bowed head. The deer first licks the region around the vagina and then rides on. The forelegs are clamped tightly around the body of the female animal and at the moment of ejaculation the deer pushes itself off the ground with its hind legs. If fertilization does not occur, the females ovulate a maximum of six times during the rutting season. The interval is approximately 18 days.
A hunched posture is a very strong signal. It is basically understood as a mating request. Red deer therefore also ride on other male animals if they adopt such an attitude, for example due to an injury.
Top dogs are often able to keep a rival away from the herd of deer just because of their impressive demeanor. This is due to the fact that, due to the hormone cycle, the older and therefore most physically developed deer get into the rut first and join the deer pack.
Rutting fights are usually initiated by calling duels. They usually increase in volume and speed as the deer stride towards each other. If they are within sight of each other, the movement is often very slow and the posture is tense. Now a phase of parallel walking can begin, in which the rivals strut side by side at a distance of 5 to 10 meters. They mainly move towards one another in such a way that they show one another broadside. If neither of the animals can drive away the other through this mutual impression, they toss around at the same time and hook their antlers into one another. Wilfried Bützler, who has evaluated numerous slow-motion studies of deer fights, describes these combat-initiating behaviors as a strongly ritualized behavior sequence in which the animals mutually attune each other to the actual fighting. As proof of this, he also mentions that a fight only occurs when both animals position themselves with a quick quarter turn so that the two antlers meet head-on. If only one of the animals shows this movement of intention, the fight does not take place. Attacks on the flanks of the opponent do not take place, it is a comment fight with fixed rules, not a damage fight. Nevertheless, it happens again and again that the animals injure or even kill themselves through fork stings.
The actual fighting is predominantly a frontal push fight in which the two red deer first brace each other and then push each other across the battlefield with their antlers hooked into one another. The weaker player runs backwards and tries to brace himself into the ground so that he can stop his opponent. If the fighting strength of the two animals is almost balanced, the two animals occasionally turn around each other in a circle. There are also brief interruptions to the fight, during which the deer loosen their antlers, impress from one side and shout.
The fight is ended by the defeated animal. At a moment when the opposing fighting pressure subsides a little, the loser breaks away from the other stag by throwing himself around 180 degrees and fleeing. The other stag reacts reflexively with the so-called blasting call , in which the head is jerked upwards. This usually prevents the antlers from being pushed at the fleeing deer.
The roaring typical of rutting can be heard particularly often from the top deer. The rut calls are a series of three to eight individual calls, with the first tone being the loudest and the longest. These calls are usually closely related to acts of rutting, such as mating or driving a female animal back into the pack. Other typical triggers of this rutting cry are the sight of a rival, the heard rutting call of another deer or fighting actions, which can also be actions similar to combat, such as forging the ground with the antlers. The calls of the individual deer are so characteristic in pitch and color that the individual animals can be distinguished by them.
Injuries and deaths from rutting battles
Even if the rutting fights are commentary fights, a small number of fights result in the death of at least one of the deer. For the German red deer populations it is assumed that five percent of the deer per year die in fighting. Only in very rare exceptional cases is the death of the deer due to the fact that they can no longer detach the entangled antlers. However, the majority of the deer show injuries after the rutting season.
Typical injuries are broken antlers, lameness and eye injuries caused by the antlers of the opposing stag. The hunting of deer during the rut allows to find injured animals and by a shot from their hunters pain to redeem. Uninjured red deer also lose a lot of weight during the rut, as they spend significantly less time grazing during these weeks. After rutting end when the male red deer in their ancestral Einstände have returned, they try to catch up the lost weight by increasing Äsung. If winter sets in early with heavy snowfalls, their poor physical condition increases the likelihood that they will not survive the winter.
The gestation period of fertilized female red deer is about 230 days. The so-called "setting time" in Europe is from mid-May to early June. Usually only one calf is born. Twins are very rare and most of the time they do not survive. The mother animals withdraw at birth; the offspring from the previous year are aggressively driven away. The birth weight of calves fluctuates widely and can be between six and 14 kilograms. The newborn calves of a single adult weighed between 5.5 and 13.7 kilograms. Calves tend to be heavier the older the mother animal is. The young animals can stand a few hours after birth and also slowly follow the mother animal. They have a typical youthful spot in which white spots stand out from the otherwise reddish-brown coat. This staining has a camouflaging effect , as calves lying quietly dissolve visually from their surroundings (so-called somatolysis ). One of the innate behaviors of the young calves is that they do not follow their mother after suckling, but instead remain motionless in a curled up position on the ground. The pre-eye gland already plays an important role in the relationship between calf and mother in the first few days because of its odor secretion. It is used for the individual recognition of the calf by the mother. Open pre-eye glands are also an essential signal for the begging posture with which the calf approaches the mother when it wants to suckle. With increasing saturation, these pre-eye glands then close.
The dam always moves away from the deposited calf in the direction of the wind. If the mother loses its calf's scent or makes plaintive noises, it immediately returns to the young animal. The curled up position of the calf covers the abdomen and anal region. This means that predators cannot smell the young animals even in close proximity. Only when the calf is a few days old and can easily follow the mother does the mother rejoin the herd of deer. From the sixth week onwards, the white spots on the calf are increasingly covered by brown, regrowing summer hair. The calf is suckled for at least half a year. If the mother is not pregnant again in autumn, the mother will suckle her calves well into the following summer.
The body development of the male red deer is completed around the age of seven or eight. From the age of six they take part in the rut. Fawns stopped developing at about the age of 5.
Diseases, predators and life expectancy
The red deer's natural predators are mainly large predators. Of particular importance are wolves , which can hunt red deer in packs and can also beat adult animals. The lynx as a lone hunter is generally only able to beat young or diseased red deer. Bears, on the other hand, rarely hunt red deer. Young calves also fall victim to foxes , wild cats , eagle owls and golden eagles . Red deer are able to defend themselves against attacks by their predators with front blows or with their antlers. Mother animals defend their young calves very vigorously and occasionally show aggressive behavior towards people who approach a calf hidden in the undergrowth.
In Central Europe there are no large predators that affect the red deer population as predators. Here it is mainly hunting that has an impact on population density. However, poor weather conditions have a significant impact on the mortality of the calves. Lack of food in winter can also lead to population decline.
Viruses such as rabies , foot-and-mouth disease and cross paralysis occur in red deer . They are also infected with bacterial diseases such as anthrax , bovine disease , tuberculosis and actinomycosis . Parasite infestation only leads to the death of the animals in exceptional cases. However, a severe infestation can affect the vitality of an individual animal so strongly that it cannot survive bad weather conditions or a harsh winter with reduced food supply. Parasites that can be found in deer include flukes , tapeworms , bot flies , lungworms , ticks , deer lice and pharynx such as Cephenomyia rufibarbis and Pharyngomyia picta . Pharynx lay their brood on the edge of the red deer's nostrils. The larvae then migrate deep into the nasal and throat cavities of the animals and make breathing considerably more difficult. Red deer with a high level of pharynx larvae often lose weight.
Deer in the wild only rarely reach the age of eighteen. At this age, the incisors have mostly failed and individual molars are also missing. Red deer can live up to twenty years in captivity.
Red deer and human
The cave paintings left behind by Stone Age people already indicate the importance of the red deer as game that can be hunted. The oldest surviving hunting book is the " Kynegetikos " written by Xenophon from the fourth century BC. It deals, among other things, with the hunt for the deer. The hunt for the red deer was still open to everyone at least at the end of the Roman Empire . In Europe, by the 8th century at the latest, hunting law gradually began to develop, increasingly restricting hunting and defining it as a privilege of the nobility . The red deer, along with the wild boar and the roe deer, belonged to the game very early on, whose hunting was only granted to the high nobility as a privilege. One of the early hunting methods in Central Europe was hedge hunting, which probably developed as early as the Germanic era. Hedges with passages were planted in such a way that game fleeing from drivers had to pass through the passages. From this gradually developed the hunt and overland hunts, which were part of the manorial amusements and were practiced above all in France. Well-trained packs of dogs were needed for this type of hunt : La chasse du cerf (“The hunt for deer”) from the second half of the 13th century is one of the oldest works in hunting literature, which is exclusively devoted to red deer hunt. In this text, written in verse, the training of the lead dog is described in great detail. In order to have enough game available for the stately hunts, a game density was promoted that led to considerable game damage on the farmers' fields.
This did not change during the baroque period either. The representative hunt for the red deer was an indispensable part of the courtly ceremonial, the practice of which included elaborately designed weapons. Prestigious game was red deer and wild boar. Far less value was given to the deer. In addition to the still practiced parforce hunt for deer, so-called "discontinued hunts" are typical for this time. For this purpose, red deer and wild boar were herded into an increasingly smaller area over a period of four to five weeks. If the area was sufficiently small, it was fenced in with rags, nets and cloths in such a way that the risk of breaking out was low. Hundreds of people were busy preparing and guarding the game up to the actual day of the hunt, including, in addition to a large number of farmers who did compulsory labor, specialized professional groups such as “hunting tailors” and “hunting rope makers”. On the actual day of the hunt, the game was driven in such a way that it presented itself optimally for shooting. On the occasion of the wedding celebrations between Duke Carl von Württemberg and Margravine Elisabeth Friederike Sophie von Brandenburg-Bayreuth in 1748, for example, the 800 red deer and wild boars that had been rounded up were driven across a pond towards the hunting party gathered in a pavilion in such a way that they had comfortable shooting opportunities. The “success” of such hunts was mainly measured by the effort and the number of pieces shot.
Such forms of hunting ended at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. Against the background of romanticism , a different hunting ethic increasingly developed, which emphasized a hunted hunting. The deer-friendly hunter, who knew the deer-friendly signs , became the basis of hunting. The changed legal situation also led to a sharp decline in the red deer population in many countries after 1848: The hunting right was now tied to the property and the farmers, who in the past often saw their existence threatened by the high game population thanks to the high game population, took care of drastic changes Inventory declines. In Switzerland, the red deer population was even completely exterminated by 1850. At the same time, the hunt began to become increasingly open to the bourgeoisie. From the second half of the 19th century, hunting had become so much a leisure activity of an increasingly self-confident bourgeoisie that it even offered the economic background of hunting painting and literature. A characteristic of this time is the great importance that was attached to the trophy hunted - in the case of the red deer, the antlers and the deer canines. Conservation goal was accordingly a red deer population, which had a high number of deer with well-developed antlers. The roaring deer motif played a major role in art .
The hunting methods for red deer that are common in Germany today are raised hunt and driven hunt . Hunting is primarily understood as a necessary regulatory measure that creates the conditions for near-natural forest management and reduces damage to agricultural land. The aim of hunting and preservation is a red deer population , the number and composition of which is based on the natural resources of its habitat. Those entitled to hunt and forest owners consider different stock levels to be appropriate depending on their respective interests. In Germany lay the hunting authorities on the basis of para. 2 of the Federal Hunting Act created shooting plans determine which number of male and female deer per hunting ground are killed.
There is no shooting requirement in red deer districts defined by state law .
Damage from red deer
The red deer originally lived in open and semi-open landscapes. In the course of the year, there were and still are extensive migrations between summer and winter areas, which are important for both food acquisition and gene exchange. In Central Europe, the red deer is mainly pushed back into large forest areas by humans. There are also disturbances from people in the winter standings. In part, these human-made changes and the reduction in their habitat are the cause of the damage caused by game that the red deer causes in forestry and agriculture. Today this leads to conflicts between those entitled to hunt, forest owners and farmers.
The general public has long been aware of the damage that deer can cause in fields and arable land. Usually in grain fields (wheat, maize) both feeding and treading damage are caused at the respective time between milk ripening and ripening. The hunting laws of the individual countries regulate the compensation that farmers receive for game damage in their fields.
The damage that excessive red deer and roe deer populations can cause in forest biotopes has only been widely discussed in public against the background of forest dieback since the 1970s. The beginning of the discussion in German-speaking countries is mainly linked to Horst Stern's film " Comments on the Red Deer ", which was broadcast at Christmas 1971 and, among other things, drew attention to the ecological damage caused by an excessive red deer population. These discussions had a significant effect on the hunting and preservation goals commonly pursued today. However, it is entirely appropriate to also use the type of forest and field management as the cause of damage, because integrated habitats are destroyed through intensive management.
Damage in the forest by red deer is caused by browsing, peeling trees and, to a lesser extent, by sweeping the antlers in the summer and certain acts of imposing action by the deer during the rut, such as soil forcing and hitting the antlers on trees in the form of a substitute battle.
Red deer peel trees by gripping the tree bark with their incisors in the lower jaw at about shoulder height and then pulling the bark off the trunk. During the summer, when long pieces of bark can be easily peeled off, red deer can be seen peeling trees very often. In winter, peeling is primarily a response to food shortages.
Red deer also eat young tree shoots, which contain nutrients that are important for their nutrition. The main shoots of young trees as well as twigs and branches are dogged. This has a significant impact on the plant population. Ecologically, there is a segregation of tree species. From the point of view of forest management, the browsing of the central main drive is particularly critical, as it leads to cripple growth or has the consequence that individual tree species do not appear at all. This grazing behavior is particularly critical in the mountain forests, where an excessively high population of hoofed game leads to a reduction in the protective function of the mountain forest against erosion and avalanches due to the damage it causes. Wherever possible, areas with regrowing trees are often barred so that red deer have no access.
Last but not least, in order to reduce the economic damage in the forest, around 70,000 red deer are shot annually in Germany. However, the manner of hunting in many places contributes to an exacerbation of the conflicts with agriculture and forestry: If the red deer is permanently disturbed by the presence of the hunter in the area, the animals retreat into increasingly dense forest areas and here they have to to satisfy their hunger with tree bark (peeling).
Measures to limit the damage
The mean value of a permitted red deer population is assumed to be around two animals per 100 hectares of forest biotope, whereby this value fluctuates depending on local conditions. This stand size is intended to ensure that the main tree species of the respective forest area rejuvenate naturally and that the ground vegetation typical of the site thrives. The value assumes that the red deer use the available area relatively evenly. In reality, this is often not the case. Alarms from forest users such as joggers, hikers, forest workers and mushroom pickers ensure that the game retreats to more undisturbed forest sections during the day, even if these do not offer suitable grazing areas. Because of the dense network of paths that typically run through the forests in Central Europe, these undisturbed areas are often very small. The red deer population concentrated there very often feeds tree shoots and bark due to the lack of alternative grazing. This can take on such extreme forms that the trees on these areas die. The reason for this is that, as ruminants, red deer have a relatively regular rhythm between grazing and ruminating periods, but because of the disquiet from humans, they only move to open grazing areas at night and at dusk. The aim of the keepers is often to avoid such red deer concentrations through various measures. The measures that have been successfully implemented in individual districts include directing the flow of visitors to as few as possible, but attractively designed forest paths, so that the red deer have sufficient retreat areas. The creation of remote grazing areas, which can then also be used by the red deer during the day, also reduces the grazing pressure. Even not paving side roads can reduce grazing pressure. Because of the poor quality of the roads, people walk them less often; at the same time, the emerging herb layer offers the red deer attractive areas for grazing. With the aim of making the legally required proportions of deforestation areas actually effective for game, the spatial structure of the forests in deer-friendly silviculture is designed in such a way that deer can actually use the accounted grazing areas within the scope of its natural behavior. Particularly efficient is the creation of secluded, covered grazing areas that are permitted within closed stands and are not accessed through nearby paths. In the alpine and low mountain range forests, in which the Eurasian lynx could be reintroduced, the experience has also been made that the lynx prevents larger red deer concentrations in the long term and forces the animals to spread over larger areas when they graze, which is also the case leads to a lower browsing load.
Feeding is one of the measures that reduce peeling and browsing damage on forest trees. It is controversial because, depending on the form of implementation, different interests can be pursued with it. Feeding can be limited to offering hay as additional feed in the few winter months. It takes into account the fact that the Central European cultural landscape is so densely populated that red deer cannot migrate in winter in valleys and floodplains that still offer sufficient food. The other extreme is feeding in which, in addition to hay and silage, sugar beets, pomace, concentrated feed such as maize and grain as well as bread are fed over a long period of time. The aim of such feeding can be to use as strong antlers as possible and to keep an unnatural density of red deer in the area.
In Austria, red deer are kept in winter gates to protect the forest in regions with heavy snowfall. The size of such a winter gate is around 10 hectares per 50 red deer and ideally consists of around 50 percent of forest and meadow areas. In the forest area, the trees are individually protected from peeling damage; Above all, it should give the game sheltered retreats. The game is lured to these areas by feeding, then caged and provided with feed there until next spring.
Alternative representation, browsing as a biotope-shaping process
However, it should be noted that a forest development perceived as "natural" does not necessarily have to simulate a completely natural process. For example, there are voices who believe that large forests in the lowlands of Europe are primarily a consequence of human interference. According to this, dense forests should not be regarded as potential natural vegetation in Central Europe, since they would only have arisen through the extermination or displacement and decimation of herbivores by humans. According to this much discussed mega-herbivore hypothesis , game browsing should be understood as a natural process that leads to more natural open pastureland , which proponents of the hypothesis consider to be the original vegetation of the European flatlands.
It is also questionable whether our current game stocks are to be regarded as "excessive" at all. It should be noted that, in addition to today's species, aurochs , bison , horses , giant deer as well as rhinos and elephants were once found in large areas in Europe and probably influenced the appearance of the landscapes and forests. Aurochs and horses are specialized grazers, and there is no evidence that European wild horses adapted to these in the Holocene , i.e. the post-ice age, when forests are said to have spread in Europe, from which one can conclude that the forest cover at least not may have been nationwide. The bison, which was often seen as a forest dweller, probably originally preferred open pastureland as a habitat.
In Saxony, for example, it was also not possible to determine that the presence of wolves has a negative effect on game populations, which is why it is not clear to what extent human hunting simulates a natural predation by predators, especially since much more game is removed through human hunting than by predators like wolf and lynx . It is therefore questionable whether game browsing, in addition to the obvious economic negative consequences, should also be viewed as an ecological problem, or not rather as a first step on the way to species-rich pasture landscapes, which represent one of the most species-rich habitats in Central Europe.
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