European Fallow Deer
(Dama dama dama, Linnaeus, 1758)
Phylum Chodata, Sub-phylum Vertebrata, Class Mammalia, Oder Artiodactyla, Family Cervidae, Sub-family Cervinae, Genus Dama, Species Dama dama dama.
Origin and History:
There are two members of this genus, the European Fallow deer and the Mesopotamian or Persian form. The Mesopotamian/Persian form is an endangered subspecies, which is only found in the wild in Israel and in a few isolated areas of Iran. The European Fallow is the most common species within the deer parks around the world, as they have several coat colour varieties making them extremely pleasing to the eye and the palmate antler form. Fallow deer (Dama dama) are not native to Ireland, but are the most widespread of our three main deer species. They are thought to have been introduced by the Normans to the ‘Royal Deer Forest’ of Glencree, Co. Wicklow in 1244. They were then spread over the centuries to numerous deer parks throughout the country. The major populations of Fallow deer are in Laois/Offaly, Tipperary/Waterford, Clare, Galway, Wicklow, Monaghan/Louth/Armagh, Fermanagh, Down, Roscommon and Sligo/Leitrim. However, in each county, the populations are often distinct, with little if any mixing between them. For example, there are a number of distinct areas with Fallow deer in Co. Galway, including Portumna, Ballygar and Mountbellew.
The Phoenix Park in Dublin is the largest enclosed park within Europe, with an area of 709 hectares. Originally it was created as a deer park in 1662, with fluctuating Fallow deer numbers throughout its history, there are now approximately 450 head. This herd is/has been intensively studied and is part of a long-term research project conducted by the Mammal Research Group (MRG of the Zoology Department, University College Dublin.
The males are known as bucks, and weigh on average between 85-110Kg; females are does, with weights averaging 45Kg, they give birth to a single offspring (fawn) in June which weighs 3-5Kg. A typical height at the shoulder for a buck is 90cm, while a doe is about 80cm.
There are several varieties of coat colours in Fallow deer, the commonest being: black, brown, menil, common and white. All coats/pelages are best seen in the summer months, where all colours are vibrant and clearly distinguished. During the winter months the animals grow a thicker shaggy coat for insulation and are very dull. The bucks are characterized with distinctive palmate antlers, prominent Adam’s apple and penile sheath (brush). These deer have the longest tail of the three main Irish species which makes it a very distinguishing characteristic.
Food & Feeding:
Fallow deer prefer deciduous and mixed woodland habitats. They are classified as grazers or non-selective bulk feeders, although they will browse on trees and shrubs. They will also supplement their diet with acorns, other fruits, nuts and fungi when available. The species has become almost nocturnal in their grazing habits in areas of high disturbance, however in their preferred habitat of mixed pole-stage and semi-mature woodland, there are usually enough secluded places to graze undisturbed and a good understory of cover for lying.
During the rut, bucks make a distinct repetitive grunting noise, which sounds like a belch, while on the rutting stand. For the rest of the year they are generally silent. Around the stand, the ground is often torn up – bucks scrape the ground with their feet and antlers and thrash the branches of nearby trees, but they seldom wallow. During the rut, the neck swells and the end of the penis sheath and the flanks become stained. They urinate over themselves and scent-mark surrounding vegetation from their suborbital glands. The same areas tend to be used for rutting by Fallow deer year after year. Unlike other species of deer, Fallow bucks can rarely be called off a stand. Rutting activity consists of the continual parading of the stand area with occasional periods of grunting.
Fawns are generally born between June until early July, later than Red deer and Sika. They are born with a dappled coat that helps camouflage them in the undergrowth, where they will stay for the first week or so of life, with the mother coming back to feed the calf every few hours.
Bucks display palmate antlers, unlike antlers of Red deer or Sika. The large flat palmate antler is fringed with points known as spellers, which are numerous. These antlers are cast and regrown each year, where they are used as combat weapons and for display during the rut. Antlers are fully formed by the end of August; the velvet dries and is shed within a week or so.
They can cause considerable damage in young broadleaf woodland, eating the leaders and side shoots, and also in agricultural crops. Fallow deer are also farmed for their venison.