Sika deer rutting

Sika deer {Cervus nippon}, stag, among heather, Arne (RSPB) Nature Reserve, Dorset, UK. August 2011. - Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Autumn marks the main event of the year for sika deer: mating season. Sika deer have distinctive mating rituals, and their theatrical behaviour makes for one of the most dramatic events in the wildlife calendar.

Stags will spend up to two months preparing for rutting season by fattening up as much as they can - they don’t get many chances to stop and eat when the song and dance of mating begins.

The dominant male stag rounds up his hinds (mature, female sika deer) to make sure that everyone knows that they belong to him. He then struts back and forth, tossing his antlers in an act of showmanship; he may also roll around on the ground and charge about. Stags let out a characteristic high-pitched whistle which can be heard over great distances as the dominant male does his best to defend his hinds from young pretenders.

Battle ensues with those not intimidated by his bellowing and bravado. Stags clash, linking antlers and shoving each other. The loser is chased away by the victor and excluded from his territory.

The preferred habitat of sika deer is coniferous woodlands and heaths, so The New Forest is one of the best places in the country to see them in action. Roydon Woods nature reserve is particularly special: located South East of Brockenhurst, Roydon Woods is the Trust’s largest reserve. At this time of year the woodland bursts with colour from fiery beech trees and evergreen yews – a beautiful backdrop for the performance.

Early morning is a great time to see male sika deer rutting. Activity is most intense soon after dawn, and the low, golden light and cold, dewy air creates the perfect autumnal atmosphere, particularly for photographers.

Tempting as it may be to sneak up close for the perfect shot, always remember to keep your distance. At this time of year male deer are pumped full of testosterone and highly aggressive, so be mindful of your surroundings.