The Cervidae Family includes the ungulates ruminants, like the red deer and the reindeer; the main characteristic, is the existence of antlers instead of horns. The antlers are ossified structures which grow every year, generally in males. Deer’s are herbivorous with a specific diet, their stomach isn’t specialized, and they can’t digest fibrous plants, like grass, feeding mainly of sprouts, leaves, fruits and lichens. Deer’s are not domesticated animals and through Human history they played an important role as a hunted animal and food source.
In Portugal it is possible to find 3 different species of deer: the red deer, the roe deer and the fallow deer.
Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
Distribution: Western Palearctic region: Turkey, Iran and South of Europe (Italy, Sicily and Balkans), Western Mediterranean, North and Central Europe. Introduced in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America.
Habitat: wide variety of habitats, pine woods, cork oak woods, Mediterranean open woodlands, deciduous forests and open grasslands, dry and hot climates.
Life span: 16 years (but normally much less)
The Fallow Deer (Dama dama) is a size between the Red Deer and the Row Deer; males are usually bigger than females, can weigh between 35 to 52 Kg (females) and 46 to 80 Kg (males) and can measure in length around 130 cm (females) and 150 cm (males). Like in other deer’s the males have antlers and the females not; the antlers are broad and palmate, shedding at the end of March/April and being completely re-grown by June/July. The complexity and size of the antlers increases with age, in younger males (up to 2 years) the antler is a single spike. The anal shield (which enables to identify the deer’s species) it’s more elaborate, with the shape of an inverted anchor, its white and delimited by 2 dark lines, crossed by the long dark tail in the middle. In summer the coat is red brown with white patches in the back and sides, the belly is white, in winter it is greyish and darker and the patches are not so visible. Along the back is a visible sepia colour line which gets darker towards the tail.
The breeding season is in autumn (September/October), according to the latitude; males can be fertile for at least 6 months. The species is polygamous and the males congregate in’ leks’, marking territory, competing with other males and then they court the females. Copulation is fast and gestation lasts for 8 months. Females give birth to a single fawn (baby Fallow deer) in the end of spring (May/June) and only females are responsible for parental care. Outside the breading season, the Fallow deer is non-territorial and is a gregarious species, the size of the groups can vary with the kind of habitat. Normally males gather in smaller groups with other sub-adults and juvenile males, females are together with other females and their young.
The Fallow Deer is a grazing herbivorous but also can feed on sprouts and fruits. Feeding period is mainly at dawn or sunset and the diet can vary according to the season. In winter can eat heather, holly, roots and cereals.
In Portugal, some decades ago there were no wild populations of this specie, except some scattered individuals escaped from captivity. Nowadays they are several wild populations and in some places are considered a pest due to the lack of natural predators (Iberian Wolf and Iberian Linx). It is a hunting species.