Latin name: Cervus elaphus
Size: Height at shoulder (stags) up to 120cm
Weight: (stags) 60 – 130kg
Where: Glen Ample; Loch Arklet; Inversnaid; North Loch Katrine; Brig o’ Turk; Glen Kendrum; Inverlochlarig; Arrochar Alps
When: All year round: autumn for the rut; winter at lower levels
You are most likely to see these magnificent animals in winter, when they come down from the snowy mountain plateaux to escape the bitter cold, and to find food in the glens. At this time of year it’s hard to understand why they are called ‘red’ deer. They have changed their rich, russet coats for a thicker, muddy grey version to keep out the icy cold.
To see them at their most magnificent you need to be walking in the hills in autumn. The mature stags are in full rut – their roars drifting eerily across the glens, their coats glowing foxy-red, and brandishing their massive antlers at lesser challengers. The prize is the right to mate with a harem of adoring hinds. If you don’t actually spot the deer you may find a muddy – and often very smelly – hollow where a stag has covered himself in mud, urine and semen to make himself even more irresistible to the hinds!
The hinds are smaller and much less conspicuous than the stags. They spend much of the year in all-female herds, or keeping a low profile to make sure they don’t draw attention to the young calves they are rearing.
Partly for this reason only the stags have antlers. They grow a new set every year, each set bigger and more impressive than the last. A fully mature stag’s antlers can be 140cm long and weigh up to 6kg. In spring they lose their antlers to make way for the new set, and you can sometimes find a cast antler – they lose them one at a time. Later in the season stags sometimes give their presence away by ‘fraying’ their antlers on tree branches to remove the itchy velvet that covers them as they grow.
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