Sika Deer

Cervus nippon

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Martin Mecnarowski/

Sikas can make 10 different sounds, from soft whistles to loud screams.


Sika Deer Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Cervus nippon

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Sika Deer Conservation Status

Sika Deer Locations

Sika Deer Locations

Sika Deer Facts

Main Prey
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Herd
Fun Fact
Sikas can make 10 different sounds, from soft whistles to loud screams.
Estimated Population Size
3 million in Japan
Biggest Threat
Humans (hunting, loss of habitat)
Most Distinctive Feature
Small, spotted deer
Distinctive Feature
Makes 10 different sounds
Other Name(s)
Northern spotted deer, Japanese deer, or Asian elk.
Gestation Period
7 months
Not aggressive
Age Of Independence
10-12 months.
Litter Size
Temperate and sub-tropical forests
Humans, tigers, bears, wolves
Average Litter Size
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Common Name
Special Features
Males grow a mane during mating season
East Asia
East Asia, Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines

Sika Deer Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • White
  • Chestnut
Skin Type
Top Speed
30 mph
15-18 years
70-350 lbs.
20-45 in. at the shoulder
35-70 in. head to tail
Age of Sexual Maturity
16-18 mo.
Age of Weaning
10 mo.

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“Sikas can make 10 different sounds, from soft whistles to loud screams.”

Sika Deer Summary

The sika deer is closely related to the fallow deer and the red deer.

Sika Deer Facts

  • Adult sika never lose their childhood spots.
  • Sika are highly vocal and can make 10 different kinds of sounds.
  • They bounce on all fours like gazelles when they run away.
  • They can eat bamboo and poison ivy.
  • Researchers say they are one of 5 wild mammals most suitable to become pets.
  • When offered a cookie in Japan, they appear to bow, but actually are preparing to headbutt.

Sika Deer Scientific Name

The scientific name of the sika deer is Cervus nippon. Cervus is Latin for “deer” or “stag,” and nippon is a Japanese word meaning “where the sun rises”—a Japanese name for Japan.

The common name sika comes from the Japanese word for “deer.” In Chinese the species is known as the “plum blossom deer.” Other names for this species are the Northern spotted deer, Japanese deer, or Asian elk.

The sika are part of the class Mammalia and the family Cervidae.

Sika Deer Appearance

Sikas are similar to the red deer but are smaller. Those in Russia, China, and Taiwan are the largest and heaviest, while the smallest subspecies is found in the Ryukyu Islands southwest of Japan.

They range from 20-45 inches tall at the shoulder and 35-70 inches in head and body length. Their tails measure 3-5 inches long. Stags (males) are larger than hinds (females). Stags can weigh anywhere from 150-350 pounds and hinds anywhere from 70-110 pounds. The largest stag on record weighed 440 pounds.

Sikas are one of the only deer species that do not lose their spots when they reach maturity, although the spots are nearly invisible in adults in some subspecies. In color, sikas have a more chestnut or yellowish-brown color spotted with white and a white patch on their hindquarters. In winter their coloration changes to dark grey-brown and loses its lighter markings. They have a white rump patch that flares out when they are startled.

Stags have smaller and less complex antlers than their red deer cousins. Their antlers can range from 11 to 30 inches in length but have no more than four tines each. The hinds have black bumps on the forehead.

Sikas are one of the only deer species that do not lose their spots when they reach maturity.

Sika Deer Behavior

Sika have an energetic, boisterous disposition. When alarmed they often display a flared rump like the American elk. They run away by bouncing, like mule deer. They are a highly vocal species, communicating with over 10 individual sounds from soft whistles to loud screams. They are excellent swimmers and sometimes jump in water to get away from predators.

Sikas can be active in daytime but in areas where there is a lot of human activity they become nocturnal. They usually feed from dusk to dawn.

Some of them live alone while others stay in single-sex groups. Males spend most years alone but occasionally form herds. Large herds gather in autumn and winter.

Sikas can potentially make good pets because they are small and have a gentle disposition. Researchers in the Netherlands named the sika as one of five mammals other than traditional pets that might be suitable as human companions. Sika deer have already been domesticated in China and Japan. 

In the city of Nara, Japan, sika are honored as messengers of the Shinto gods and allowed to wander through parks and temples. Some people treat them to special “deer cookies” and bow to honor them. Because the deer often appear to bow their heads in response, they are known in Nara as “bowing deer.” However, like goats, sika see a bowed head as an invitation to play or as a challenge and will bow their heads in preparation for a headbutting charge.

Sika Deer Habitat

The sika originated in East Asia with a large range from northern Vietnam to the Russian Far East. It is now rare in all these areas except Japan, where it is overpopulated. It has been introduced into numerous European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.

They like dense temperate and subtropical forests with some clearings for foraging, where there is no more than 4-8 inches of snowfall. In the Japanese summer sika deer live in the mountains up to a height of 8,202 feet. During the thick snowfalls of the winter they descend to lower pastures as much as 2,300 feet lower in elevation.

Sika Deer Diet

Sika deer are herbivores. They eat grass, fallen leaves, shrubs, herbs, fruit, fungi, ferns, and bamboo. They will even eat poison ivy. In farming areas they raid corn and soybean fields.

Sika Deer Population

The largest sika population is in Japan, numbering over 3 million and increasing, due to conservation efforts and the extinction of its main predator, the Japanese wolf, 100 years ago. Sika are now overpopulated there.

Only a few hundred to a few thousand remain in the wild in China, Taiwan, and Russia. It is unknown whether the species survives in North Korea, but in South Korea they are extinct.

In the United States, a herd of 4-5 sika was introduced to an island in Maryland in 1916. They escaped to the mainland and their population in the state is now estimated at 12-15,000. Their rapid multiplication in Maryland has created environmental and agricultural damage. Sikas have also been introduced in Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

Sika Deer Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

In parts of China and Russia, sika are hunted by wolves, bears, tigers, leopards, and brown bears. Fawns are also hunted by lynx and golden eagles. In Japan, their main predator was the Japanese wolf, until it went extinct 100 years ago, so sikas have become overpopulated there.

Humans are the main predator of sika. In Europe, they are valued for hunting, especially as they use different survival and escape techniques than the red deer, making them more challenging prey. Sometimes they will even squat and lie on their bellies when threatened.

Velvet antlers (dried immature antlers) of stags are a popular ingredient of Chinese traditional medicine. Sika have been domesticated in China to provide a steady source of velvet antlers.  

Another threat to sika from humans is the loss of habitat. The sika’s preferred habitat in temperate forests is also highly valued for agriculture and human settlement, in some of the most heavily populated areas of the world.

The global conservation status of the sika is “least concern.” While in specific countries sika have gone extinct due to overhunting and loss of habitat, overall the worldwide numbers of the species are increasing and they are overpopulated in some areas, including Japan and in the Eastern Shore area of Maryland and Virginia in the US.

Sikas cross-breed with red deer in areas where they have been introduced, such as the Scottish Highlands, threatening the red deer gene pool. In fact, research on the negative impact of introduced mammals in Europe found the sika to be one of the most damaging species, along with the brown rat and the muskrat.

Sika Deer Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

The sika deer mating season is called the “rut” or the “rutting season.” In Japan it takes place from September to October and their fawns are born the following May or June.

During the rut Stags grow distinctive manes. They are highly territorial and keep a harem of females they defend from rivals. They mark their territory, which can be up to 5 acres in size, by digging holes with their feet and antlers and urinating into them. Males have long, brutal, and sometimes deadly fights over territory.

Hinds usually congregate in small family groups with their babies and sometimes with offspring from the previous year. Hinds bleat and whistle softly to communicate with their herds. In case of danger, they sound the alarm with a short, high-pitched bark.

Gestation takes 7 months after which the hind usually gives birth to one, or on occasion two fawns. Fawns weigh 10-15 lbs. at birth and nurse for up to 10 months. Fawns have an instinct to stay perfectly silent hidden in thick underbrush until the mother returns to nurse them. Fawns become completely independent at 10-12 months and both sexes become sexually mature at 16-18 months.

On average, sika deer live 15-18 years in captivity. The oldest recorded sika lived 25 years and 5 months.

Similar Animals to the Sika Deer

  • Fallow deer: Sika deer and fallow deer are similar in size, appearance, diet, and preferred habitat. They become sexually mature at approximately the same age and have low aggression levels.
  • Red deer: The Red deer and Sika have overlapping habits in Asia and can interbreed. The conservation status of both types of deer is “least concern.” They have a similar appearance, but the Sika is smaller than the Red deer.
  • Mule deer: Mule deer have a similar appearance to Sika deer but are larger and have distinctive large ears like those of a mule. They have similar diets and behavior patterns. Mule deer are native to North America while Sika deer are found in Asia.

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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals focusing on mammals, geography, and world cultures. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Masters in Foreign Affairs (1992) and a Doctorate in Religion (2009). A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, movies, and being an emotional support human to four dogs.

Sika Deer FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How long do sika deer live?

On average, sika deer live 15-18 years in captivity. The oldest recorded sika lived 25 years and 5 months.

What does sika deer taste like?

The sika is a popular game deer with a reputation for tasty venison. It has been described as gamey with a flavor like toasted oats.

Where are sika deer found in the US?

There are large populations of sika deer in Maryland and Virginia, particularly on the Eastern Shore of both states. Sika have also been introduced into Texas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. There are small populations in Kentucky and North Carolina.

Do sika deer make good pets?

Potentially, yes. They are small and have a gentle disposition. Researchers in the Netherlands named the sika as one of five mammals other than traditional pets that might be suitable as human companions. Sika deer have already been domesticated in China and Japan.

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


  1. Wikipedia / Published October 4, 2022 / Accessed October 10, 2022
  2. UDaily / Published May 9, 2019 / Accessed October 10, 2022
  3. Assateague Island National Seashore / Accessed October 10, 2022
  4. Maryland Department of Natural Resources / Accessed October 10, 2022
  5. IUCN Red List / Accessed October 10, 2022
  6. HowStuffWorks / Accessed October 10, 2022