European Red Deer


Scientific Name

Cervus elaphus

Species Survival Plan





Fox, golden eagle, wolf, lynx, European brown bear and man


Buds, wheat, oats, carrots, beets, apples, grasses and dwarf shrubs

Originally Native To



54 inches at shoulder


300 - 800 lb.


Large deer; males with antlers that can measure 36 inches in length and weigh 20 lb.

Gestation Period

9 months


1 fawn

Birth Season

Late May to July


Wild 15 - 20 years
Captivity 26 years

Social Behavior

Very gregarious


ABOUT European Red Deer

European red deer are closely related to American elk, but are smaller in size. They are the largest deer at Fossil Rim.

They have existed since at least the end of the last Ice Age. Prehistoric remains of red deer show them to have been considerably larger than present-day animals. Antlers with up to 22 points have been discovered preserved in peat bogs.

Red deer are easy to identify due to their mostly uniform color: dark reddish-brown in summer, turning to grayish-brown in winter. During both seasons, the underbelly is paler. The females have a face and throat that are paler than those of the males, particularly in summer. Adult red deer are hardly ever seen with spots or, if so, there are not many of them.

The distinguishing feature for stags are their antlers, which in mature adults are long and branched. The longer branches usually sweep backwards and have a number of much shorter ones in front.

These deer are social animals, living in summer herds with up to 400 individuals. The herds are matriarchal, being dominated by a single female. Seasonal migrations occur, with deer moving to higher elevations for the summer, and to lower elevations over winter. In spring, the sexes separate after the mating season, females leaving to give birth, bulls forming separate summer herds.

The rutting season takes place from the first of September to the middle of October, during which time there are fierce fights between the males. A male will “bugle” during the rut; this mating call is also a warning for other males to stay away from his harem. This unique song can be heard over a half-mile away.

A challenge to a harem-holding stag begins with him and the rival roaring repeatedly for 10-20 minutes. If the rival is out-roared by the stag, he will usually back down at this stage. If not, a fight between them will ensue.

The dominant stag then gathers a harem of females near water. While the stag eats nothing during the rutting season, he needs to drink constantly. After mating season, he sheds his antlers and joins a male herd.

Red deer eat early in the morning and late evening. During the day and late at night they are inactive, spending most of this time chewing their cud.

Red deer are browsers, eating grasses, forbs, and sedges in summer and, in winter, woody growth (cedar, wintergreen, sumac, eastern hemlock, jack pine, staghorn, red maple, basswood). Deer particularly like dandelions, aster, hawkweed, clover, violets, and sometimes mushrooms.

At Fossil Rim, red deer are located in the Game Preserve - the fourth pasture you enter.


As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.