Monday, 12 October 2015

Tatton Park Red deer rut

October is the month when the annual Red deer rutting season is upon us. The rut (or breeding season) has started to get underway in earnest in the past week or so. I spent some time yesterday at Tatton Park, in Knutsford, Cheshire with the local RSPB 'Explorers' group with the hope of seeing the deer rut on a ranger-led walk which was an outing arranged for the group's 30th birthday celebrations. Tatton Park is home to managed herds of both Red and Fallow deer, numbering several hundred individuals. It wasn't far into the walk before we spotted one or two deer in the distance, then as we moved further through the park, large herds were seen, and at much closer range... 

The rut itself takes place throughout the autumn, generally peaking in the first half of October when Red deer males compete with each other to win the right to mate with a 'harem' of females. Foals are then born the following year, between mid-May and mid-July after an 8 month gestation period. Asserting and ascertaining dominance by the males is achieved mostly by sheer size, and intimidation through roaring and posturing as well as 'parallel walking' - when males will walk uneasily in parallel with one another to size each other up. Only when two males are closely matched and dominance cannot be determined by any other means will they resort to the fights for which ruts are famed.

The dominant male amidst some of his 'harem'
Apart from a few seconds' worth of interlocking antlers, which looked to be no more than a tame practice bout between two younger males, we didn't witness any fighting, however we were lucky to hear plenty of 'roaring', and it was quite obvious which was the most dominant male in the large herd we were watching from his stance in the centre of a large group of hinds, and his posturing which would quickly deter other males from coming too close. 

As well as their position amongst the herd and large size, the dominant males also tend to be recognisable as the ones with the largest antlers with the most 'points'. A male Red deer in his prime can have up to 16 points - 8 per antler. (Some might refer to him as a 'Monarch' because of the number of points (also called tines) of his antlers. Those with 12 points are sometimes referred to as a Royal stag, others with 14 points as an Imperial stag. The females of the species don't have antlers at all.)

The dominant male asserted his authority 'roaring' in the midst of 'his' large group of hinds. He was also the most muddied - dominant males will wallow in their own urine in a behaviour which - because of the pheromones it contains - helps to bring the hinds into oestrus. Some younger males stood within this group and seemed to be largely tolerated or ignored, though would be given gentle warnings (such as a half-hearted charge) by the large male if he felt they had overstepped an unwritten mark.

Reminding the other males who's boss!

Other large males tended to stay on the periphery of the herd. Perhaps they would take their chances with the females when the dominant male's back was turned, maybe their turn in the top spot would come in following years.     

Remaining on the sidelines - a male keeps to the periphery of the herd

Another large stag, which being on the outskirts of the herd was obviously less dominant, (but was certainly no small animal and had an impressive set of 10 point antlers), walked steadily towards and then closely past us. It was a treat to be in a prime position to admire this majestic animal as well as to watch and hear him 'roar' at close quarters. We did make sure to let him pass without [us] approaching any closer to him, knowing that their raging hormones can make the males quite temperamental during the rutting season! Watching the animals' actions and interactions during the rut was a really inspiring way to spend a few hours on a beautiful and sunny autumn day.

On the approach - this male walked towards and then straight past us
A close and loud encounter!


  1. Thanks for sharing your day out Jan. It sounds and looks as if you had a great time at Tatton.

    1. Thanks very much Dougie, I know seeing a managed herd in a country estate isn't quite the same as seeing them in the wild (of the Highlands say) but still wonderful for all of us to see them up close and with the males in their full antlered finery! :)

    2. Very true Jan, but they're an awful lot easier to find in parks :-)

  2. Very interesting post Jan - nice pix. BBC Autumnwatch is coming up soon - they're doing something on Red Deer - love a good Red Deer rut!

    1. Thanks very much Phil - I'll look out for the Autumnwatch, you can't fail to be impressed by these guys can you! :)

    2. Well Chris Packham is close to being a hero of mine for the way he stands up against persecutors of wildlife - I say 'close to' because he can also be very irritating!

    3. I wish we had lots more Chris Packhams speaking out against wildlife persecution - he's clearly pushing all the right buttons to get right up the noses of the Countryside Alliance and other shooting lobbies which I admire him greatly for.

      As much as Autumnwatch is impressive I was referring to the stags. :) I'd love to see more of the action of the rut, an early start may be in order sometime soon to try to catch those misty morning images!

  3. oh THOSE guys yes they're impressive too!