Most of the deer in Guardian of Giria are red deer (Cervus elaphus).
- Adult males are called stags, adult females are called hinds and juveniles are called calves. Pre-adult males are called brockets.
- Red deer are similar in appearance to wapiti/elk (Cervus canadensis) but are considerably smaller. Whereas wapiti males (bulls) can reach weights of 300 kg (730 lb), red deer stags reach about 240 kg (530 lb).
- Only stags have antlers, which are large and could have up to 16 points or “tines”. Antlers, made of bone, start to grow in spring and are shed each year at the end of winter. The antlers are initially covered with a light velvety coating to protect them. This coating is removed by rubbing the antlers against the bark of a tree.
- Red deer are herbivores. They eat all kinds of plants, including grasses, heather, berries, apples, lichens and moss. They will also eat tree seedlings and tree bark. In summer, they feed mainly at dawn and dusk, resting during the day. During winter, most of the day is spent searching for food. They use their hooves to dig through the snow to get at the earth beneath.
- The red deer mating season, known as the rut, occurs from late September to early November.
- For most of the year, red deer live in same-sex groups. In advance of the rut, males return to the hinds’ home range and begin to call loudly (bellow) to attract females. The deeper the sound, the more attractive it is to females as it makes the males sound larger and stronger. The call also intimidates other males.
- Only mature stages attract groups of hinds (known as harems), and breeding success peaks at about 8 years of age. Younger stags and brockets spend most of the rut on the periphery of larger harems, as do stags over 11 years old. They will try their luck if an opportunity arises, but will likely be chased off by the dominant stag.
- Males can detect that the female is coming into oestrus and can chase after her for several hours before she is ready to mate. They do this by curling their upper lip (a behaviour called the Flehmen response) to smell the air. The hinds omit a sweet and musky scent during this time.
- Hinds only come into season for a few hours. The hind then chooses who to mate with. Sometimes a hind will hang out with the harem of a dominant stag, but sneak off and mate with another stag when she comes into oestrus! When in oestrus, hinds sometimes rub their chin against the stag to encourage activity.
- Rutting stags urinate in muddy pits under trees or by water and roll in the mud (a behaviour called wallowing) to make themselves smell irresistible to females! They might also catch leaves and branches in their antlers to make them look bigger.
- Like wild boars, stags don’t eat during the rut and can lose up to 20% of their body weight over the month-long season. Their priority at the end of the rut is to fatten up again in time for winter.
- Hinds usually have one, or occasionally two, offspring, any time from mid March to early July, with most births occurring in June.
- Calves stay hidden for the first two weeks before starting to graze with their mother.
- Calves lose their spots after about 2 months.
- Hinds defend calves vigorously, kicking any attackers strongly with their forelegs.
- Red deer can reduce their heart rate by up to 60% in the winter to conserve energy.
- Red deer can live for up to 26 years, although the typical lifespan is 17-18 years.
- Their fur thickens in autumn in preparation for winter.
For more information, see here.