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Fallow Deer: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Fallow Deer, with their graceful forms and distinctive spotted coats, are among the most familiar and elegant species of deer in the world. Known scientifically as Dama dama, these creatures are celebrated for their striking appearance and have been a fixture in art, culture, and wildlife across various continents.

In this article, we delve into the enchanting world of the Fallow Deer, exploring their classification, diverse subspecies, and unique characteristics. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a nature conservationist, or simply curious about these charming animals, this fact sheet offers a comprehensive insight into the life and ecology of Fallow Deer.

The Fallow Deer at a Glance


Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Species:D. dama

Essential Information

Average Size:Height at shoulder: 85-95 cm (33-37 inches)
Average Weight:Males: 70-100 kg (154-220 lbs), Females: 30-50 kg (66-110 lbs)
Average Lifespan:12-16 years in the wild; up to 20 years in captivity
Geographical Range:Originally from Europe and Asia Minor, now widespread across the globe due to introductions
Conservation Status:Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The Fallow Deer, Dama dama, is a single species with several notable subspecies, distinguished primarily by their size, coloration, and distribution. The most recognized subspecies include:

  • European Fallow Deer (Dama dama dama): The most common subspecies, characterized by its typical spotted coat and widespread presence in Europe.
  • Persian Fallow Deer (Dama dama mesopotamica): Larger in size, found in Iran and Israel, notable for its endangered status. It is sometimes considered a separate species (Dama mesopotamica)
  • Anatolian Fallow Deer (Dama dama anatolica): Native to Turkey, this subspecies is less common and has darker coloration.

Each subspecies has adapted to local environments, with variations in coat color ranging from chestnut with white spots, to menil, melanistic, and leucistic (white) forms. These variations not only represent genetic diversity but also adaptations to different habitats and climates.

Fallow Deer


Fallow Deer are known for their striking and variable physical appearance. Adults typically measure around 85-95 cm (33-37 inches) at the shoulder. The males, known as bucks, are larger and heavier, weighing between 70-100 kg (154-220 lbs), while the females, called does, weigh between 30-50 kg (66-110 lbs).

One of the most distinctive features of Fallow Deer is their coat, which varies greatly in color. The most common is a rich, chestnut color with white spots, particularly noticeable during summer. Other variations include a pale fawn color (menil), a dark, almost black shade (melanistic), and a rare white (leucistic) form.

Males possess broad, palmate antlers, which they shed and regrow annually. These antlers, which can span up to 70 cm (27 inches) in width, are used in displays of dominance during the breeding season.

Sexual dimorphism is evident, with males being significantly larger than females and sporting larger and more impressive antlers. Females generally lack antlers and are more subtly colored, particularly during the winter months.

Habitat and Distribution

Fallow Deer have a wide geographical distribution, originally native to Europe and Asia Minor but now found in many parts of the world due to introductions.

They are highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of habitats, including mixed woodland, grassland, and agricultural land. They have a preference for forest edges and open woodland, where there is a mix of vegetation for feeding and cover for hiding.

Fallow Deer


Fallow Deer exhibit a range of interesting behaviors. They are primarily crepuscular, being most active during dawn and dusk, although they may also be active during the day in undisturbed areas.

In terms of social structure, Fallow Deer are known for their gregarious nature. They often form large herds, which can vary in size from small family groups to aggregations of several hundred individuals. Herd composition can change seasonally, often influenced by the breeding season and environmental conditions.

Communication among Fallow Deer includes a variety of vocalizations, body language, and scent marking. Bucks are particularly vocal during the rut (mating season), emitting groans and grunts to assert dominance and attract females. Body language, such as the display of antlers and posturing, also plays a crucial role in their social interactions.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Fallow Deer are herbivores and their diet primarily consists of grasses, herbs, foliage, and shoots. They are known to adapt their diet seasonally: in the spring and summer, they consume more herbaceous plants and young shoots, while in the autumn and winter, they switch to more woody vegetation, including twigs and bark.

Their feeding behavior is characterized by grazing and browsing. Fallow Deer are ruminants, meaning they have a specialized stomach to ferment plant material before digesting it.

This allows them to extract maximum nutrients from their plant-based diet. They tend to feed during the cooler parts of the day, typically dawn and dusk, and spend a significant amount of time ruminating.


The natural predators of Fallow Deer vary depending on their geographical location. In their native habitats in Europe, their primary predators include wolves and lynx.

In other parts of the world where they have been introduced, such as North America and New Zealand, they may face predation from large carnivores like cougars and bears, and in some areas, from human hunters.

Fawns (young deer) are more vulnerable to predation due to their smaller size and lack of speed. To protect them, fawns are often left hidden in vegetation by their mothers, who only visit to feed them to avoid drawing attention to their location.

Fallow Deer

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The breeding season, or rut, for Fallow Deer occurs in the autumn. During this time, males become more territorial and display aggressive behaviors, such as antler clashing, to compete for access to females. Bucks will establish and defend rutting stands to attract females.

The gestation period for Fallow Deer is about 230-240 days. Following this period, typically in the spring, females give birth to a single fawn, although twins are not uncommon.

Fawns are born with a spotted coat, providing camouflage in their early life. They are nursed by their mothers for the first few months before starting to graze on solid food. Fawns are weaned completely by 7-9 months of age but may stay with their mothers until the next breeding season.

Young deer reach sexual maturity at around 16 months for females and slightly later for males, although males may not breed until they have established a territory, which typically happens when they are older and stronger.

Conservation and Threats

Fallow Deer are generally listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List, indicating that they are not currently at significant risk of extinction on a global scale. However, this status varies regionally, and some localized populations may face more significant threats.

The main threats to Fallow Deer include habitat loss due to agricultural and urban development, collisions with vehicles, and in some regions, overhunting. In areas where they have been introduced, they can sometimes be perceived as a pest species due to their impact on vegetation and native fauna.

Conservation efforts for Fallow Deer involve habitat management, monitoring of populations, and in some cases, controlled hunting to manage population size and prevent overgrazing. In regions where they are considered invasive, efforts are made to balance their impact on native ecosystems while maintaining healthy deer populations.

Fun Facts

  1. Coat of Many Colors: Fallow Deer are known for their unique and varied coat patterns and colors, ranging from spotted to completely white.
  2. Antler Artistry: Only male Fallow Deer have antlers, which they shed and regrow each year, and these can grow up to 70 cm wide.
  3. Ancient Admirers: Fallow Deer have been admired and bred by humans for thousands of years, even being kept in the Roman Empire’s private collections and hunting parks.
  4. Global Travelers: Originally from Europe and Asia Minor, Fallow Deer have been introduced to more than 30 countries worldwide.
  5. Ruminant Digestion: As ruminants, Fallow Deer have a four-chambered stomach, allowing them to efficiently digest tough plant materials.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do Fallow Deer live?

Fallow Deer typically live for 12-16 years in the wild, but they can live up to 20 years in captivity.

Can Fallow Deer be domesticated?

While Fallow Deer can become accustomed to human presence in parks and reserves, they are not domesticated animals and retain their wild instincts.

What is the difference between a buck and a doe?

A buck is a male Fallow Deer, generally larger with antlers, while a doe is a female Fallow Deer, smaller and without antlers.

Are Fallow Deer nocturnal?

Fallow Deer are primarily crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk, although they can be active at any time.

Do Fallow Deer migrate?

Fallow Deer are generally sedentary and do not undertake long migrations, though they may move locally in response to seasonal changes in food availability.

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