The Roe ( Capreolus capreolus ) is a medium sized species of deer and one of two truly native deer of the British Isles, the other being the Red deer. Standing at between 0.5 to 0.75m tall at the shoulder. When fully grown they weigh between 10 to 28kg.
Roe deer vary in coat colour throughout the year, being most distinguishable in the summer when their coats are bright rusty red. In winter, their coats turn a dull, slate grey colour. Both sexes have a prominent white rump and no tail. The females or does have a small tuft of hair similar to a tail at the base of the rump patch during the winter. Roe deer have large black eyes, noses, and mouths surrounded by pale areas. They have large ears. Males or bucks have small antlers, which have three points when fully grown. Average life expectancy for Roe deer in the wild is around 10 years.
Roe deer can be found throughout the British Isles.
They are associated with woodlands and have increased in both population and distribution with the increase in woodland planting in the 20th century. Previously, Roe deer suffered almost catastrophic decline due to over-hunting and deforestation. Roe deer are particularly associated with the edges of woodlands and forests. They are also found in areas with copses, scrub and hedgerows and use agricultural fields in these areas too. Roe are generally solitary animals although you will see them in groups when feeding in open areas such as fields and also during winter. Roe deer are active throughout the day and night but are most likely to be active at dawn and dusk.
Roe deer have a very interesting breeding system, which is designed to ensure the best possible start in life for their offspring. Females can give birth at two years old and will normally produce one or two offspring. The young or kids are born in May and June. Roe deer are unique amongst deer species in that they delay the development of the growing offspring prior to birth for up to four months following mating. This is a mechanism adopted to avoid birthing during harsh northern winters when survival of young would be unlikely. Bucks aggressively defend a territory from the start of spring in February/March until the end of August. The rut or breeding season that occurs between late July and early August. During this time bucks will pursue does and compete with neighbouring bucks to take over their territories and the does visiting that area. Fights between males can be serious and sometimes even lead to fatalities. The fawns remain hidden in long grass from predators; they are suckled by their mother several times a day for around three months. Young female roe deer can begin to reproduce when they are around 6 months old.
Roe deer are highly selective feeders and eat small quantities of a wide variety of plant types. They select highly nutritious plants and therefore browse rather than graze. They enjoy herbs, cereals, hedgerow plants, heather, and young trees as well as some garden plants. Deer do not have a top set of front incisors but instead have a hard pad that acts to tear vegetation rather than cut it.
By the 19th century, roe deer had disappeared from most of the UK, surviving only in Scotland and isolated pockets elsewhere. Reintroductions from Europe and positive habitat change helped the species recover and it is now abundant.The roe deer has no natural predators and is protected in the UK under the Deer Act 1991.