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How to tell red and roe deer apart


There are six types of deer that live in the wild in the UK. They are roe deer, red deer, fallow deer, sika deer, muntjac deer and Chinese water deer. The two types that live around my village are red and roe deer, and these are the only two types of deer that have always lived in Britain.

When I first started going on walks, I thought it was a bit difficult to tell which was red and roe deer, but once you know how to tell the difference, it gets really easy. This is how to tell them apart.

The pictures are all of deer that live in woods near my village and I've watched. The roe deer are in the first picture, and the red deer are in the second picture.

• The size of their antlers

This is an easy way to tell the male deer apart.

Deer are the only animals that have antlers. Female deer don't have antlers, apart from reindeer. Antlers fall off every year and grow again.

Roe deer have antlers which are about 30cm at most, and which go straight up with three points in each one. The bottom bits are all knobbly. I wrote about how roe deer antlers grow here.

Red deer stag antlers are always much bigger, and they have different numbers of points. Yesterday, dad saw two stags in the same wood, and one had just one point antlers (it was about two or three years old), and the other had twelve points ! (that's the one in the picture). Normally, the stronger and fitter the stag, the bigger the antlers it has. The biggest red deer antler I have is seven points.

Red deer stags have a shaggy mane like a lion. Roe deer don't.

• When the antlers grow

Roe antlers fall off in November and grow again in December, January, February and March.

Red deer antlers fall off about in March, and grow again in April, May and June.

When antlers grow, they have a furry cover on them called velvet, which brings blood to the antler to help it grow. You can see the velvet in the pictures.

• Red deer are much bigger

Red deer are the biggest land mammal in Britain, and they are the biggest type of deer. Red deer bones are massive.

Roe deer are the smallest type of deer in Britain a lot smaller (in the UK Chinese Water Deer and Muntjac are smaller still) They are not much bigger than a big dog but their legs are longer.

• The shape of their heads

Roe deer have a small head and a small snout. They look cute and a bit like a big teddy bear.

Red deer heads are longer, and look more like a horse.

• Their skulls

Roe deer skulls are always smaller than red deer skulls. Even a baby red deer skull is bigger than an adult roe deer skull.

An adult roe deer skull is about 20cm long. An adult red deer skull is about 35cm long.

Both roe and red deer have three premolars and three molars on each jaw. Deer only have bottom incisors, and they have eight of them. Adult red deer skulls have top canine teeth, but they are very small.

• Their bottoms and tails

This is the easy way to tell roe and red deer apart.

Roe deer have a small white bottom, and female roe deer have fluffy tufts on there as well.

Red deer have a much bigger patch and it is creamy yellow. Red deer have small tails as well that hang over the patch.

• A funny smile !

This is the weirdest thing that not many books say about.

Roe deer have white patches above and below the mouth that look like a big white smile. Red deer don't have this.

The pictures show how the roe deer look much cuter too !

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Anonymous said...

Hi there, what an informative site you have created, it certainly 'worked' for me. I live in the Forest of Dean and a couple of years ago my dog found 'his gynormous bone': little did he know that chewing it was a bit of a problem but he did not want to part from it. Anyway my husband did not believe me when I said that the antler in question used to belong to a 'Reed Deer', whereby he was convinced that the provenance was from a Roe or Fallow. Plenty Googling, numerous pictures etc.: until I found your site with a super detailed description: thanks again. Keep up the good work and give a hug to your little boy, kind regards, Mrs D Giddy.

Jake said...

Hi Mrs Giddy,

Glad it helped ! If it looks like a red deer antler, it might also be from a sika deer because the two types are very similar. I only wrote about red and roe deer because they are the two types of deer that live near my house.

Anonymous said...

We have just moved to the blackdown hills in somerset and have seen a few deer but didnt not whether they were roe or red and your information has been invaluable, we now know that they are roe deer as all the ones we have seen have white bottoms, so thank you again, Sandra

Jake said...

Hi Sandra ! Glad it helped ! There are other types of deer too - fallow, sika, Chinese water deer and muntjac - but I wrote about red and roe only because they are the deer near my village.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jake
I googled 'which deer have white bottoms' and your blog came up. You explained the difference between deer really well. I checked out your site and like your sense of humour. Keep up the good work!

Many thanks
Gill aged 48 and living in Scotland and who now knows how to tell the difference betwen roe and red deer thanks to Jake.

Jake said...

Thanks !

Ann said...

This was the most informative site I found on distinguishing different kinds of deer -- and I live in Kansas, in the U.S., where we have different kinds. Now I know what they are! Thank you.

Poppy P said...

Hi, was looking for information about roe deer tails and found this fantastic resource...thanks so much, it helped and was so enjoyable.

Jake said...

Cool ! Glad it helped !

Julia said...

Very grateful for the information, Jake, as we saw some roe deer on the Threave Estate when on holiday last week in Scotland.

Andrea Probert said...

Perhaps you could update this to mention the reindeer that roam free in the Cairngorms in Scotland? They are native to the UK and used to roam over a lot of the country, before climate change. Great article and tips for telling the species apart.

Jake said...

I'll maybe do that in another post. Roe and red are pretty commonly found if you're in the right place, reindeer are still rare for most people in the UK.

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