Dama damafallow deer

Geographic Range

Since the last glaciation, fallow deer have had a natural range in southern European regions, Asia Minor, along the Mediterranean Sea, and possibly in northern Africa and Ethiopia. They have been widely introduced to 38 countries in North and South America, the Leeward Islands, Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. (Feldhamer et al. 1998; Nowak 1999).


Fallow deer live in a variety of climates ranging from cool-humid to warm-dry areas. The habitat they prefer usually is a combination of vegetation types. They prefer old, deciduous, broad-leaf forests of varying densities interspersed with grassy areas, but they are also found in mixed forests, broad-leaf forests, subalpine vegetation, grasslands, woodlands, low mountains, scrublands, and savanna. (Feldhamer et al. 1998; Grizmek 1990).

Physical Description

Two subspecies of fallow deer are distinguished: Dama dama dama (European fallow deer) and Dama dama mesopotamica (Persian fallow deer).

The body mass of free-ranging adult males is from 46 to 80 kg with an average of 67 kg, and the mass of adult females is from 30 to 50 kg with an average of 44 kg. The head and body length is 1.3 to 1.75 meters, tail length is 150 to 230 mm, and the shoulder height of males is generally 0.9 to 1.0 meters with the females slightly smaller. The forelegs of Dama dama are usually shorter than the hind legs; as a result, the line of the back is elevated posteriorly. The "Adam's apple" (larynx) is prominent in males.

Palmate, multi-point antlers, usually found only in males, also distinguish Dama dama from all other deer. They range in length from 50 to 70 cm. The antlers are usually shed annually in April and the new ones are regrown and free of velvet by August, until the fifth or sixth year. Females are generally without antlers.

Dama dama have the most variable pelage coloration (white, menil, common, and black) of any species of deer. Typically, the pelage is darker on the dorsal surface of the body and lighter on the ventral surface, chest, and lower legs. Their summer coat is pale brown, smooth, and thin while their winter coat is dark brown and rougher with a heavy undercoat. As a rule, there are visible white spots on the back and flank, less on the neck, and none on the head or legs. In general, the darker the coat, the less striking the spots. A black stripe runs dorsally along the nape of the neck to the tip of the tail. (Feldhamer et al. 1998; Grizmek 1990; Nowak 1999).

  • Range mass
    30 to 80 kg
    66.08 to 176.21 lb
  • Range length
    1.3 to 1.75 m
    4.27 to 5.74 ft


During the breeding period, or rut, males spend most of their time establishing their territory (rut stand) by pawing the ground to create scrapes where they may urinate, thrashing understory vegetation with their antlers, and by producing low-pitched groans and grunts. At the onset of the rut, since deer are polygynous, the females also appear at the rut stand. Males may stop feeding at this time. Many subordinate males unable to establish territories remain around the edges of the herd, but they are chased away by the rutting male if they enter the territory.

Mating occurs during the rut. Males fight often and violently during the mating season but injuries are rare; their fights involve a ritual shoving with the antlers that follow fixed rules. When mating, the male approaches the female many times, sniffing and licking her genital areas in order to determine if she is in estrous. The female responds with a high-pitched whine and moves away. Eventually the female allows the male to mount.

Fallow deer have a breeding season of approximately 135 days, generally between the months of September and January in the Northern Hemisphere. The highest percent of fertilization occurs in late October. Males are capable of breeding at the age of 17 months but do not generally breed until the age of four years unless they live in heavily hunted populations. Females generally conceive for the first time around 16 months of age. The length of the estrous cycle for females is approximately 24 to 26 days. Females are polyestrous and may cycle up to seven times in one breeding season, but they usually conceive during their first cycle. Dama dama usually give birth to one fawn after a gestation period of 33 to 35 weeks. The majority of fawns in the Northern Hemisphere are born in early June. Their weight at birth is generally 2 to 4 kg. Full size is attained between 4 to 6 years in females and 5 to 9 years in males. ("Grizmek's Encyclopedia of Mammals Vol. 5", 1990; Feldhamer, et al., Dec. 27, 1988; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Fallow deer breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs between September and January.
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    231 to 245 days
  • Average time to independence
    12 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    16 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    487 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    17 (low) months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    48 months

Females often become secretive and try to find hiding places prior to giving birth. The female usually gives birth during the daily period of least activity. The mother-fawn bond is established immediately after birth when she licks it clean. The mother does not rejoin the herd immediately after birth. The mother hides the fawn in dense bushes and only returns to nurse it (every 4 hours for the first 4 months) during the day. Rumination in the fawn does not begin until 2 to 3 weeks of age. The mother begins weaning the fawn when it is around 20 days old but weaning continues until the fawn is around 7 months old. After 3 to 4 weeks the mother and fawn rejoin a herd of females and their young. After approximately one year, the young are independent.


Fallow deer have an average life span of 20 to 25 years.


Adult males are usually solitary. However, at the end of the summer months they may form small bachelor herds of fewer than 6 and begin joining the female groups by early autumn, the beginning of the rut. In the terminal phase of the rut males form smaller bachelor groups while females, fawns, and yearlings remain in larger groups of 7 to 14. The smallest female herds are found during the fawning season.

Fallow deer are active mainly nocturnally and exhibit peak activity periods during dusk and dawn. They lead a shy and withdrawn existence in the forests. In general, deer are more alert in open areas or in smaller groups; females are usually more alert than males, especially when their fawn are present. Depending on reproductive status and diet quality, fallow deer spend most of their time feeding, resting, and moving. Dama dama lift their legs higher than any other species when they trot. They jump with all four feet in the air and carry their tails erect when fleeing. (Feldhamer et al. 1998; Grizmek 1990; Nowak 1999).

Communication and Perception

Fallow deer have a good sense of smell and hearing and very good vision. They communicate through body language, smells, and vocalizations. Fallow deer have six types of vocalizations: barking, which is an explosive alarm call used by females; bleating, which is produced by females during parturition or with their young; mewing, given by any deer during submission postures; peeping, produced by fawns in distress or contacting their mothers; wailing, an intense distress sound by a fawn older than 2 days; and groaning, produced by rutting males. The most common visual communication among Dama dama when disturbed is alerting, where they gain an upright stance with their head held vertically and their body rigid. They may also use different forms of touching, stiff-walking, tail positions, and head positions to communicate. When responding to a source of disturbance the deer may walk, trot, strut, gallop, or pronk.

Food Habits

Fallow deer forage on a variety of vegetation, usually grasses, mast, and browse. Other items in their diet may include herbs, dwarf shrubs, leaves, buds, shoots, and bark. Their diets are adaptable and depend on season and availability. Their peak feeding periods are usually at dusk and dawn but they may also forage at intervals throughout the day. (Feldhamer et al. 1998; Grizmek 1990).

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Fallow deer are preyed on by humans and large predators in the areas in which they occur, such as wolves, cougars, and bears. Their vigilance behaviors and herding helps to protect them from predation.

Ecosystem Roles

Fallow deer impact the plant communities in which they live through browsing.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In Europe fallow deer are the best known and most widespread "park game". Fallow deer are also maintained in captivity for their antler velvet or for commercial production of meat. Since they are easy to breed, they are present in almost all of the larger zoos. In addition, fallow deer are raised on large, fenced, unfertile meadows as domestic animals. (Grizmek 1990; Nowak 1999).

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • ecotourism

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Collision with fallow deer occasionally cause motor-vehicle accidents. (Grizmek 1990).

Conservation Status

Dama dama mesopotamica (Persian fallow deer) is considered the rarest and least known mammal of its size. In 1955 the residual population was endangered by degradation of their habitat, and by animal and human enemies. In 1957, efforts to preserve and aid breeding of this species were undertaken in the Opel Animal Preserve in Kronberg, Germany, and Dama dama mesopotamica was placed under complete protection in Iran. In the late 1970's this wild population was found to be well protected and increasing in number. By 1988, however, the last wild population seemed to have disappeared. The species in its natural environment remains endangered. They are being reintroduced in northern Israel. Currently there are more than 80 in the wild (Grizmek 1990; Saltz 1998, Nowak 1999).


Aarti Dharmani (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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having more than one female as a mate at one time

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


1990. Grizmek's Encyclopedia of Mammals Vol. 5. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co..

Feldhamer, G., K. Farris-Renner, C. Barker. Dec. 27, 1988. Mammalian Species No. 317, pp. 1-8. The American Society of Mammalogists.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition, Volume II. Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Saltz, D. 1998. Anim. Cons.: 245-252.