December 5th   Leave a comment

The weather and short days hasn’t been very conducive to seeing birds. If it is bad weather on the weekend, that is my opportunity gone. I have been seeing a lot of roe deer though. I take them for granted but probably shouldn’t. It is fantastic to have such a large wild mammal fairly common about Crail. You don’t have to look in more than a few fields before you see one and then it is often a small herd of them. I decided to find out a bit about them and so had a look in the Handbook of Mammals of the World this evening. This multi-volume work is still in progress – when it is finished there will be a detailed article for every species of mammal in the world. Luckily deer are in Volume 2. Roe deer are split into two species – a Western and an Eastern species. They look similar and this probably reflects separation of an ancestral single species into two isolated “refugia” in southern Europe and Asia during the last ice age. Since then the two forms have spread back across all of Europe and Asia to meet at the Ural Mountains, and when they did they had probably evolved sufficiently that they were then incompatible. So speciation goes. Western roe deer are one of Europe’s commonest large mammals with a population estimated at about 9 million animals. Amazingly, nearly 3 million are killed by human hunters each year, yet the species remains widespread and common. It has been overhunted in the past but game protection laws and hunting licences have resulted in a stable population. In the past, wolves and lynxes would have been their main predator – that so many roe deer can be harvested by us without the population declining perhaps indicates how many wolves and lynxes there would have been before we got rid of them. The key to the roe deer’s success is of course its ability to thrive in man altered habitats. It most favours the open areas, scrub and light woodland that humans tend to create, and it is small enough to be able to hide in these habitats. They have particular adaptations to cope with a high tannin diet so can eat pretty much any vegetation. It is estimated that a roe deer needs 2 – 4 kg of vegetation a day. That is not that much greenery really, although on a frosty winter’s day, in competition with the rest of a group, that might be a problem. Roe deer also don’t tend to have much in the way of fat reserves so have to forage much of the day. They are active at night as well. The roe deer around Crail don’t seem to have too much of a hard time. I often see quite large groups (8 or more animals), and often they are lounging or lying on the ground rather than feeding. Another measure is how sensitive they are to disturbance, and Crail deer tend to run away at long distances – hundreds of meters. Animals that are starving take greater risks. Of course, they may feel more threatened, but I don’t think they are shot at too often around here. The greatest danger may well be being hit by cars. I do quite often see road kill roe deer, despite the fact that a freshly hit deer is a good bootful of venison and so is often quickly removed from the scene.

A Crail roe deer – this is a yearling, so born last summer

Posted December 5, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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