Deer - Red Deer- Cervus Elaphus - Western Isles Wildlife Sightings
The deer in the Western Isles are thought to be some of the most genetically pure red deer in Scotland. There are many opportunities to see the deer either in The Isle of Harris, or The Isle of Lewis and Uists
Red Deer - Introduced to The Western Isles
It isn't known exactly when the red deer were introduced to The Western Isles as its widely accepted that they wouldn't have been able to swim from nearby islands or the mainland. Nowadays the deer are thought of as native to The Western Isles as they have been in residence for so long
Red Deer Sightings
It is probably in July that if you are very fortunate you may see the calves and the annual rutting takes place in October.
The only other mammal that is native to the islands is the otter. The red deer look so majestic with the backdrop of the lovely hills, forests and mountains.
It is the Red Deer,the largest of Scotland's two native deer that are often to be seen throughout the Western Isles. In the winter especially they come down from the higher ground to nearer the towns in search of food.
The Red Deer's Antlers - Herds - Rut
The red deer's antlers are multi branched. These antlers are shed and grow again each year in the summer - they are at their best just before the annual "rut".
Stags and hinds live in separate herds most of the year but come together in the autumn in the breeding season, or rut.
Antlers Highly branched.
The number of branches on the antlers increases with age. Up to 16 points in native animals. The young stag's first antlers are probably just small spikes and at this stage he is known as a 'knobber'. Stags over two years old begin to grow branching antlers and more points or 'tines' are added each time a new set of antlers is grown, until there are twelve points.
Wandering Groups of Deer
Stags live in small wandering groups, except during the rut when they become solitary and fight other stags for the control of a hind (female deers are called hinds) herd. A stag may mate with up to twenty hinds in a given year. Calves are born in June.
Royal - Antlers with 12 spikes
Once the antlers have twelve spikes - the head of Antlers is then called 'a royal. Antlers are made of solid bone and as soon as they are shed, usually in March or April, a skin - called 'velvet', grows over the bony stump. The velvet is supplied with blood vessels and nerves and bone is laid down within it.
Antlers Reach Full Size
When the antlers have reached full size the blood supply to the velvet is cut off. The velvet begins to die and the stag rubs it off against branches and young trees. The antlers are then still of great use to the deer who then eat it - and it provides them with rich minerals which help to make them healthy.
Size of Antlers is Related to Quality of Diet of The Stag
The size of the antlers is related to the quality of the diet of the stag. Those living in forests have larger antlers than those grazing on moorland. If some minerals or vitamins are lacking then the antlers may be stunted. Stags in the Highlands chew their old antlers when they drop off to replace the minerals needed to grow a new set, which are missing from the peaty soil of their habitat.
The breeding season, or rut is from the end of September to November. Stags return to hind's home ranges and compete for access to hinds by taking part in elaborate displays of dominance. The stags roar and walk parallel and fight with great vigour and ferocity. Two rival stags sometimes walk slowly beside each other, a little apart, assessing each other's strength. The weakest may walk away but if they seem to be evenly matched then they may begin to fight.
The most successful stags may end up with up to forty hinds in their harems. The stags spend most of their time endlessly patrolling a circle of ground around the hinds, chasing away any challengers, trying to prevent the hinds from straying and mating with each one as she becomes receptive. They hardly have any time to eat, and by the end of the rut, the stags are thin and exhausted. Serious injury and death can result but fighting only occurs between stags of similar size that can not assess dominance by any of the other means. The dominant stags prize is the exclusive mating with the hind.
Woodland red deer hinds (females) can breed at 16 months old. Smaller hill deer may not reach sexual maturity until they are 2 - 3 years old. Only stags over 5 years old tend to achieve mating despite being sexually mature much earlier (before their 2nd birthday in productive woodland populations).
In woodland populations hinds over a year old give birth to a single calf after an 8 month gestation, between mid-May to mid-July each year. Puberty may be delayed until 3 years old in hill hinds, which may give birth only once every 2 or 3 years. A hind about to give birth leaves her herd and finds a secluded spot to 'drop her calf'
Watch the hinds and calves in Early Summer
Early summer is the best time to watch hinds and calves, as within the herd they are highly sociable
Deer - Colour
Red deer are red-coloured in summer but can change to greyish brown in winter.
Food - Grasses and Heathers
Red deer like to forage on a range of grasses, sedges, heathers and woody species - which is why they frequent whatever woodlands are available. The red deer are common throughout much of Scotland and The Western Isles - however not so in The Northern Isles
Two mammals native to The Western Isles
The red deer and the otter are the only two mammals that are actually native to The Western Isles, The red deer can live up to 18 years. Red deer came to Britain from Europe over 11000 years ago. The deer were used as a food source - and the bones and antlers were used as tools. When the forest areas starting to decline - the deer then became natives to the Scottish highlands and islands with much smaller populations being elsewhere in the small forested areas of the Uk that were left.
Sounds of The Deer
You can hear if you are lucky the stags roaring and grunting during the rut. Hinds bark when alarmed and moo when searching for their young. The calves give out high squeals when alarmed and also bleat to their mothers.
In medieval times, red deer were hunted in Scotland. Large numbers of deer were driven across the hills and through woods into traps called ‘teinchels’, where hunters lay in wait. The link between deer and trees at that time led to the term ‘deer forest’ - the term which is still applied to some upland areas that are now treeless.
Red Deer in Roman Times.
The red deer has always been hunted by man for its meat, (venison) as well as for a sporting activity. In Roman times, coaches were pulled by teams of red deer during ceremonial processions connected with the worship of Diana, the goddess of hunting.