Red Deer

Cervus elaphus

Fia Rua


Red Deer

What group of animals do deer belong to?

Like sheep, cows and goats, deer are ruminants - herbivores with cloven hooves and a complex stomach for breaking down grasses and other vegetation. Deer are different from other ruminants in that the males have a set of antlers which are regrown every summer, rather than permanent horns on the head. Red deer are our largest land mammal, with males (stags) up to 1.4m at the shoulder. Females (hinds) are smaller at about 1m. As the name suggests, the coat is reddish in summer, turning to grey-brown in winter.

Red deer are our only native deer.

However, most red deer in Ireland are descended from introduced animals. The only true native herd is in Killarney National Park in Co. Kerry; some animals from this herd have been moved to National Parks in Connemara and Glenveagh, to increase the native population. Also, many deer throughout the country are actually hybrids (mixes) of red and Japanese sika deer.

Where do red deer live?

Originally an animal of woodland edges, red deer in Ireland are now more usually found in mountain and moorland areas , as most lowland forests were cleared for farming over the centuries.

Do red deer live in groups?

Yes, deer are social animals. Most of the year, males and females live in separate herds of related animals, which may come together in large groups up in to the hundreds. In autumn, as the rut or breeding season approaches, the male herds break up as the stags become more aggressive and go their separate ways to find females.

How much territory does a red deer need?

Most of the year, red deer don’t defend a territory as such, but will occupy a home range of 200 to 2000 hectares (a hectare is about the size of a football pitch), depending on the quality of food in the area. Many small groups of deer may range around this area.

What do red deer eat?

Deer are herbivorous, feeding on plants. The main food of red deer is grass and sedges on the mountains, along with leaves of trees and shrubs such as holly, heather and bilberry. In hard winters, deer may strip the bark off trees for food, and may also take crops. Males eat large amounts of coarser plants, while females eat less but are more choosy, taking higher-quality food. The young feed on their mother’s milk until eight months of age.

Do red deer make noises?

During the breeding season or rut, red deer make a lot of noise! The stags roar at each other across the valleys to show how big & strong they are, and as a challenge to other stags. Most of the rest of the year, deer are almost silent.

When are baby red deer born?

Mating takes place in the rutting season, in October. The hind is pregnant for about 8 months, and the babies, known as calves, are born in late spring to early summer. The calf is reddish-brown with white spots, and spends the first week of its life lying still in long grass, visited by its mother for feeding.

How long do red deer live?

In the wild, hinds may live for up to 20 years. Stags rarely live longer than 12 years. Many males die over winter, through over-exhaustion in the rut and harsh conditions in the mountains.

Do red deer have any predators ?

Humans are now the only predators of deer in Ireland. In the past, wolves used to hunt deer, but the last Irish wolf was shot in Carlow in 1786. Without natural predators to keep the deer population in balance, numbers of deer have grown hugely in the past 2 centuries, and in many areas, there are now more deer than their habitat can support. So a certain amount have to be culled by national parks, foresters and other land managers over winter.

Are red deer protected?

The red deer herd in Killarney National Park is totally protected. Other deer herds around the country are protected most of the year, but have an open hunting season from late autumn to early spring. A licence is needed for hunting deer, and the meat, called venison, is often sold to restaurants. For more information about deer hunting in Ireland (rules, seasons & licences), see the Citizens Information website.

National Parks & Wildlife Service, 7 Ely Place, Dublin 2. Phone: +353 1 8882000 Fax: +353 1 8883272