Fallow deer Dama dama

About this pest

Key Clues

Distinctive features: A small deer. Forelegs are shorter than the hind legs, making the back slope forwards. Coat colour is variable: black, dark brown, white or cream (rare in the wild in New Zealand), or light red-brown with conspicuous white spots. Distinctive broad and shovel-shaped antlers.

Size: Shoulder height of 0.9–1m. Yearling males have ‘spike’ antlers up to 250mm long; adult males have palmated antlers up to 700–800mm long. Body length: for males is 1.6m and for females is 1.4m. Adult males weigh 63–80kg

Droppings: Round looking, but often more pointed at one end. Smaller than red deer droppings. Occur in large groups singularly or clumped.

Footprints: c. 50–60 × 30–40mm. Two pointed toes, rounded heels.

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Males rub bark off trees with their antlers. Browse understorey vegetation.

Eye shine: Blue.

Distribution: North Island and South Island. Patchily distributed.

Why are fallow deer pests?

Ecological impacts

Fallow deer can damage forests and vegetation in the same manner as red deer do. Fallow deer are selective browsers, concentrating their feeding on plant species they prefer to eat. In some areas of native forest this can lead to a change in plant composition. Fallow deer can reach high densities in parts of New Zealand. These densities remain high despite managed hunting ballots. When fallow deer are at high density they can prevent regeneration of the tree species whose seedlings and saplings they prefer to eat. They readily graze introduced grasses, but can also thrive in native forest where these species are scarce,


Other impacts

Like red deer, fallow deer may act as a spillover host for bovine tuberculosis (i.e. TB is more likely to be found in fallow deer which inhabit areas where the possums have TB and are at high densities). Fallow deer can also have adverse impacts on forestry plantations in areas like the Blue Mountains (Western Otago) where large numbers of fallow deer inhabit native forest adjacent to plantations.


Read more about fallow deer.


Droppings

Separate

Fallow deer droppings are usually observed as groups of pellets, but the pellets can be scattered as they walk along. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. When they are fresh, they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. The size of pellet groups varies with age and sex of the animal, but in New Zealand they contain an average of 52 pellets. Individual pellets are approximately 10 × 10mm in size. From a distance, they look like small balls, but on closer examination they are seen to be elongated and more pointed at one end. Fallow deer can also have latrines where repeat urination in the same place kills grass.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer species in areas where their range overlaps, as well as with the droppings of sheep, goats and chamois.

Clumped

Fallow deer droppings are usually observed as groups of pellets, but the pellets can be scattered as they walk along. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. When they are fresh, they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. The size of pellet groups varies with age and sex of the animal, but in New Zealand they contain an average of 52 pellets. Individual pellets are approximately 10 × 10mm in size. From a distance they look like small balls, but on closer examination they are seen to be elongated and more pointed at one end. Fallow deer can also have latrines where repeat urination in the same place kills grass.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer species in areas where their range overlaps, as well as the droppings of sheep, goats and chamois.

Not the droppings you were looking for?

Have a look at all our droppings clues.

Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Like all other species of deer, fallow deer have cloven hooves, meaning each hoof is divided into two parts called cleaves or toes. Dew claws, small claw like digits, are positioned slightly higher up the leg and to the rear of the hoof – these may show in hoofprints when the animal is running or in soft surfaces such as mud. A fallow deer footprint is approximately 50–60mm long and 30–40mm wide. The most obvious parts of the footprint are often the two pointed toes, or the rounded heel. The print of the hindfoot usually overlaps that of the forefoot.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer footprints will look similar to other deer species. They can also be confused with goat, sheep and pig footprints. Deer footprints tend to be narrower than those left by goats, sheep, and pigs and pigs often leave a dew claw mark in soft ground.

Trails and Runs

Fallow deer repeatedly use the same tracks and trails through the forest and these can become well worn. If trails are recently used, fresh droppings and hoof-prints will be seen along them. Fallow deer are also known to create ‘play rings’ during the breeding ‘rutting’ season. These are well worn rings with a 2–3m diameter around a tree or stump. These are created by more than one deer, probably when a stag has enticed several females into a harem.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer trails can be confused with the trails of other deer in areas where there are more than one deer species, as well as with the game trails created by other species such as pigs, goats, sheep and wallabies where these occur.

Not the footprints or tracks you were looking for?

Have a look at all of our tracks.

Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

In the understorey, there are certain plant species that fallow deer prefer to eat (this is known as selective browsing). They especially like broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), other broad-leaved subcanopy trees and some ferns. Over time, their selective browsing can lead to the removal of these species from areas, leading to an increase in unpalatable ‘browse resistant’ species.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer browse can be confused with browse by other deer species, cows, goats, and sheep.

Bark

Male fallow deer (stags) often rub bark off a tree using their antlers. This can kill the tree, particularly if the bark is removed from right around the tree (ring barking). Stags rub their antlers on trees for two main reasons: 1) to remove the velvet from their antlers (in autumn), and 2) and to mark their territory.

Can be confused with:
Bark rubbing by fallow deer looks like bark rubbing by other species of deer, and may also be confused with bark rubbing by pigs and bark stripping/biting by goats.

Plant leaves

When fallow deer have been browsing leaves, several of the leaves will be removed from the stem, while some remaining leaves will have been chomped in half.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer browse is difficult to distinguish from the browsing of other species of deer, goats, sheep or cows. Often the best way of determining which species has been browsing leaves in an area is through a process of elimination i.e. by determining which species inhabit the area.

Not the vegetation damage you were looking for?

Browse all types of vegetation damage.

Kill Sign

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Have a look at all our kill signs.

Other Clues

Sound

Female fallow deer often bark loudly when startled. Females with young fawns communicate with each other with a high-pitched bleat. During the breeding season, males groan loudly and repeatedly to attract females. Fallow deer alert each other to danger by foot stomping. Stags have a distinctive croak during the roar.

Can be confused with:
Noises made by fallow deer may be confused with noises made by other species of deer.

Body covering

Fallow deer fur colour ranges from black to brown to white and all shades in between.

Can be confused with:
Fallow deer fur can appear similar to the fur of other deer species.

Eye shine

Fallow deer have a distinctive blue eye-shine.

Distribution

Fallow deer are the second most widespread species of deer in New Zealand after red deer. They are found in most regions in the North and South Islands but their distribution is very patchy (they are only found at certain locations). In most areas there are large tracts of forest and suitable habitat where they do not occur. Their slow spread is partly because fallow deer are not big dispersers and prefer to live close to where they were born. Fallow are also found in petting zoos, as they are popular for aesthetic reasons.

The distribution map is a guide. New populations can be created when fallow deer escape from deer farms or when they are intentionally released for hunting.

Other

Antlers cast by stags are often a reliable way to distinguish between deer species. With fallow deer, the upper branch of the antlers flattens into a palm (like a splayed hand) 200mm wide. This palmated form is distinct from other deer species in New Zealand. the yearling males have ‘spike’ antlers up to 250mm long, while adult males have branched antlers up to 700–800mm long.

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More about Fallow Deer

Origin

Fallow deer are indigenous to the Mediterranean area, but have been introduced to 38 countries spanning all continents, making them one of the most widespread ungulates in the world.

Description

Fallow deer are a small species of deer. Males are called stags and females are called hinds. Their forelegs are shorter than the hind legs making their back slope forwards. Internationally, fallow deer have the most variable coat colourings of any species of deer. The black or dark brown colouring is the most common colouring in New Zealand, but occasionally fallow deer with reddish-brown sides and white spots, or pale white coats are seen.

Yearling males have ‘spike’ antlers up to 250mm long, while adult males have palmated (flattened tips) antlers up to 700–800mm long. Sometimes in adult males, the upper branch of the antlers flattens into a palm 200mm wide, which is distinct from other deer species in New Zealand.

Size and weight

The shoulder height of fallow deer is approximately 0.9–1m. Body length of fully grown males is on average 1.6m, while for females it is 1.4m. Adult males weigh 63–80kg.

Behaviour

Fallow deer are gregarious and, prior to the government hunting initiatives of the 1950s, herd sizes could be larger than 100 animals. In many areas groups of greater than 3–4 are rare, however, large mobs of fallow deer can occur where they protected on private land. Fallow deer alert each other to danger by foot stomping and adopting an erect posture. During the breeding season ‘rut’ (April–May), adult males lose interest in food and their neck swells. They thrash and scent mark bushes with glands on their head (preorbital). Males establish and defend small mating territories (rutting stands), which females are attracted to. Females are not usually herded into a harem as seen in other species such as red deer.

Diet

In native forest, fallow deer eat mainly eat the leaves of woody species, especially broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) and other broad-leaved subcanopy trees, as well as some ferns. Fallow deer also eat a lot of grass when they are able to access it.

Habitat

Fallow deer are known to occupy rain forest on the west coast of the South Island, shrubland, scrubby margins of farms and commercial pine plantation. Fallow deer also thrive on improved pasture as domestic stock.

Distribution in New Zealand

See distribution clue.

How to get rid of fallow deer

Contact the local DOC or Regional Council office for advice (see Next Steps [link]). The most efficient way to reduce fallow deer numbers is through hunting. They are not controlled through commercial venison recovery (like red deer are) because their small size and patchy distribution makes their extraction less commercially viable. As with other species of deer, fallow deer can be very susceptible to incidental by-kill from aerial 1080 drops targeting possums and rabbits. However, with the exception of 10% 1080 foliage gel, no other poisons are currently registered for use on deer in New Zealand.


FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Bang, P., & Dahlstrom, P. (2001). Animal tracks and signs. Oxford University Press, New York.

King, C., et al. (2005). Introduction to Family Cervidae. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 447-459). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Nugent, G., and Asher, G. (2005).  Fallow deer. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 447-459). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.