Red Deer

C. elaphus

Last updated: October 24, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Karl Moor / Creative Commons / Original

A male red deer shows his age in his antlers, which become longer and more branched every year.

Red Deer Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Artiodactyla
Family
Cervidae
Genus
Cervus
Scientific Name
C. elaphus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Red Deer Conservation Status

Red Deer Locations

Red Deer Locations

Red Deer Facts

Name Of Young
calf
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Herd
Fun Fact
A male red deer shows his age in his antlers, which become longer and more branched every year.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown, but estimated European population is 1.7 million.
Biggest Threat
Hunting. Hybridization with other deer varieties.
Most Distinctive Feature
Large branching antlers on males.
Distinctive Feature
Reddish-brown fur.
Other Name(s)
Stag or hart (male), or hind (female)
Gestation Period
231-238 days
Temperament
Non-aggressive
Litter Size
1
Habitat
Open woodlands, swamps, forests, grasslands, meadows, pastures
Predators
Adults have no natural predators left in the wild, foxes and golden eagles prey on young
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
1
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
  • Nocturnal/Crepuscular
Favorite Food
Grasses, cedar, dandelions, aster, hawkweed, clover, violets, mushrooms
Common Name
Red Deer
Special Features
Reddish-brown fur
Origin
Europe
Number Of Species
3
Location
Europe, Central Asia, Northwest Africa, Australia, New Zealand

Red Deer Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Red
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
43.5 mph
Lifespan
20 years
Weight
275-600 lbs
Height
4-5 feet at shoulder
Length
5.5-8 feet
Age of Sexual Maturity
20-30 months
Age of Weaning
3-4 months
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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“Red deer are depicted in 40,000-year-old cave art!”

Red Deer Summary

The red deer is one of the largest species of deer in the world, thriving across Europe and Western Asia and in multiple other areas of the world where they have been introduced. They are distinguished by their reddish-brown fur and the impressive antlers of the males, which are shed and grow back larger and more branched every year.

Red deer are not endangered, but they hybridize with other deer species, which may lead to a decline in their numbers in their current form. Although humans are their greatest predator, they are also their greatest preserver, as the red deer is valued for sport hunting and food and its antlers are prized in East Asian medicine and traditional European decorative styles.

Red Deer Facts

  • The fourth-largest deer species in size.
  • The only species of true deer to inhabit Africa.
  • Males are called “stags” or “harts” while females are called “hinds.”
  • Males shed their antlers and grow them back larger every year.
  • Their antlers have traditionally been used in Europe as decorations and to make furniture.
  • Red deer have been depicted in cave art from 40,000 years ago.

Red Deer Scientific Name

The scientific name of the red deer is Cervus elaphus. Cervus is Latin and elaphus is Greek—both words mean “deer.”

The red deer is thought to be a group of species, but the exact number of species has not been established. American elk were thought to be a subspecies of red deer but have now been proven genetically to be a distinct species.

Red Deer Appearance

Red deer are the fourth-largest deer species in the world, after the moose, elk, and sambar deer. You can distinguish red deer by their reddish-brown fur, which grows thicker and more gray in color in the autumn and is shed in the spring. In some regions, particularly in the United Kingdom and Norway, stags also grow a short neck mane in the autumn.


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buck in the pathway
Red deer are the fourth largest deer species in the world.

©OldskoolDesign/Shutterstock.com

The stags (males) are larger, weighing 350 to 530 lbs., compared to 260-370 lbs. for hinds (females). Stags have impressive branching antlers that are made of bone and are shed each winter. When new ones grow back in the spring they are covered in skin or ‘velvet’ that shrivels and hangs in tatters and is rubbed off against branches by the stag. The antlers are larger and more branched each year, providing a good indication of the deer’s age.

Red deer have an even number of toes on each hoof, like camels, goats, and cattle. They have large oval-shaped ears with pointed tips. They have dark eyes positioned high on the head to give them excellent visibility.

Red Deer Behavior

Red deer live most of their lives in same-sex herds that come together only during mating season. Herds of females may grow as large as 50 members. Male herds are more loosely structured, and it is not unusual for older stags to wander off to live solitary lives.

Red deer of both sexes fight off enemies by kicking powerfully with their front legs. Stags also defend themselves with their antlers when they have them. Stags bellow loudly to attract mates and warn off rivals. Their calls can be heard over great distances.

Red Deer Habitat

Red deer thrive in a variety of habitats: mature forests, meadows, swamps, woodlands, and mountains. They prefer woodland areas that have grassy clearings for grazing. They usually spend winters at lower altitudes in wooded terrain. In the summer they migrate to higher elevations.

They are indigenous to Europe, the Caucasus Mountains, Turkey, Iran, and western Asia. In ancient times they crossed the Straight of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco and are today the only true deer species found in Africa. In the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, they live in semi-arid desert conditions.

Because of their popularity in sport hunting and value as a food source, they have been introduced to many other areas of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and South America. In Australia red deer are considered to be an invasive pest, doing tremendous environmental damage to indigenous flora and fauna.

Red Deer Diet

Red deer are ruminants with four-chambered stomachs. They eat their food in two stages, allowing it to ferment before partially regurgitating it and re-chewing it.

They favor grasses, moss, and other herbaceous plants, tender shoots of trees and shrubs, as well as mushrooms.

Red Deer Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

In its original range in Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, few natural predators remain for adult red deer. In some areas grey wolves and brown bears are still active and may prey on them, particularly the young, elderly, or sick. Small calves can be prey for foxes, golden eagles, and domestic dogs.

Humans are the red deer’s greatest predators, due to sport hunting, hunting for food, and the use of antler velvet in East Asian holistic medicines. Their antlers have also been popular in European history as decorative items, clothes hooks, chandeliers, and horn furniture. Red deer have been iconic symbols in European and Asian Art since prehistoric times.

Since red deer are seen as a useful species they have been introduced to other countries around the world, and re-introduced to areas where they had been over-hunted, so their numbers are thriving.  

In Europe and Asia red deer are hybridizing with Japanese sika deer. In the long term, this could decrease the prevalence of the original red deer population.

Red Deer Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

Stags are solitary or in small groups of bachelors until mating season, which is called the “rut.” Then, they compete for hinds, challenging one another and fighting with antlers, sometimes causing serious injury.

Stags between the ages of 4-11 follow herds of as many as 20 hinds from August through early winter, mating with multiple females in the same season. They roar to keep their harem together and warn off rival males. You can hear the sound of stags a great distance away. Females seem to be most attracted to those who roar most often and most loudly.

Hinds reach sexual maturity at 2 years old. They usually stay together in large herds with other females, breaking away only for a few days to find a quiet spot to give birth. Gestation takes 240-262 days. They usually have only one offspring, weighing about 35 lbs. Weaned after about 2 months, calves stay with their mothers for a year, leaving only when their siblings are born the following year.

Calves are born spotted and lose their spots by the end of summer. Spots are still visible in the summer coats of some adults.

In the wild, red deer typically live 10-13 years but can survive over 20 years in captivity.

Red Deer Population

The worldwide population of red deer is unknown, but their numbers in Europe have been estimated at 1.7 million. The conservation status of red deer is “least concern.” They are so plentiful worldwide and adaptable to different climates that even if they go extinct in a local area the species persists elsewhere and can be successfully reintroduced to former habitats.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer and a lifelong animal lover. I've traveled the world, but the high point for me was riding an elephant in Nepal. Currently I'm an "Emotional Support Human" to 2 dogs, 1 cat, and 3 guinea pigs. My favorite wild animal is the quokka. If you've never heard of it look it up . . . and smile!

Red Deer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is a red deer an elk?

No. DNA testing has proven that deer and elk are two different species.

Do red deer live in North America?

There is a species of red deer in Canada that is a different species than the red deer of Europe. They are larger and the males have different vocalizations. In the United States, red deer are found in exotic ranches in Texas.

Are red deer threatened in Europe?

Red deer are not an endangered species. However, in some parts of Central Europe they are hybridizing with an introduced Asian species, the Japanese sika deer. Over time, this threatens the original red deer’s survival in some parts of Central Europe.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. The British Deer Society, Available here: https://bds.org.uk/information-advice/about-deer/deer-species/red-deer/
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_deer
  3. World Deer, Available here: https://worlddeer.org/red-deer/
  4. Britannica.com, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/art/cave-art
  5. New World Encylopedia, Available here: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Atlas_Mountains

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