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Who has been eating the roe deer ?


Two weeks ago I blogged about a roe deer carcass which I found in a new red deer wood. I set up my trail camera on the body, expecting to quickly film predators, but by the time I wrote the first blogpost,  hardly anything had come at all, and the body was intact.

Since then, the body has been moved three times, and predation has begun. Of the predators so far, two were expected, one animal I thought would be a predator doesn't seem to be interested, and one other predator has turned up which was a BIG surprise !

The weather

This is what the site looked like yesterday with the body circled in yellow.

It's been a cold, stormy winter. December was quite mild with some snow. The night of the 8th January we had a bad storm, which destroyed what I thought was the pine marten nest a few yards away. We had heavy snow on the night of the 13th and 14th, and another bad storm on the night of the 14th which caused a lot of damage in the wood. Since then the temperature has been at freezing or below,until today when it went up to 3c.

The temperature matters because it can affect how easy it is for predators to find other food sources. The snow covered up the body completely for a while and the cold would have stopped the body smelling, and foxes use scent to find bodies.

The fox

Of all the predators which I expected, the fox was at the top of the list. I'm used to finding roe deer bodies with missing limbs from fox predation, and even to find almost skeletonised deer  bodies being moved quite long distances.

I was really surprised it took four weeks to get a fox finding the body. But then I remembered that this wood is surrounded on three sides by sheep farms, so foxes would be driven out the area, snared or shot.

It wasn't until the 3rd January that I got footage of a fox finding the body. It came at 9.34am, sniffed around it, then came back again about midday for another sniff. It came back at 5am two days later for another sniff, then the following evening it dragged it by the back leg out from under the tree branch. It came back in the middle of the night to start eating it.

I have seen a lot of predated roe deer, and foxes usually start under the ribcage, and pull out the organs from there. This fox has just eaten around the right femur (top of the right leg) and you can see in the video he has eaten it down to the bone. Then on the 9th January he turned the body over so the right side was against the ground, then he came back later to chew the left femur, which is the position it is in at the moment.

I was very surprised the fox hasn't been back more regularly, because the deer body is a large food source waiting to be eaten.

The buzzard

The buzzard didn't appear until after the fox dragged out the body and opened it up. I think the buzzard didn't spot the body until then,  because it wasn't filmed on the trail camera at all before then.

The buzzard is very cautious. It would sit on a branch beside the trail camera for a minute or two watching the body, then fly down and test the body with its claws, before feeding on the open body at the back. Even when on the ground,  it would keep looking around.

It first started feeding on the morning of the 7th, and came back twice the day after. It would stay feeding for along time, once an hour (on and off) and once for a half-hour, much longer than the fox.  The most recent footage was two days ago, when it only stayed for a few minutes.

Buzzards aren't nocturnal, so it has only visited during the day, either in the morning or just before sunset.                

The pine marten

As soon as I knew there was a pine marten in this wood, this is the one predator I thought I would film a lot of.

And the pine marten visited a lot, starting a week after I left the body. The problem was, at the start the trail camera was clamped on a horizontal branch about two foot off the ground, and I would get completely white bits where the pine marten walked across the branch right in front of the camera !

Since then, the pine marten has been on the camera at least once a week, and always at night, often around 5-6pm. That was one of the reasons that I thought it was nesting in the nest nearby, since I think pine martens begin their night close to their nest, then move further away before coming back in the morning.

The only time I filmed it in the daytime was at 11am on the morning after the very bad storm and snow, which makes me think it was searching for food and somewhere to sleep. It sniffs around the snow which was covering the body, then seems to get startled. Since then it has been back again, and the most recent filming was two days ago.

The thing that surprised me was that it doesn't feed from the carcass at all ! I don't know what that is. Maybe he can't smell the meat because it is too cold, and he can't really see it in the dark. He does mark the body though, every time he visits, and you can see him raising his tail to spray.

And the surprise predator...

This was a shocker. I didn't expect this, but you might, if you had been watching the carcass camera on BBC Winterwatch this week.

The first time the robin visited, I thought it was maybe just taking some pooled water from the body. But it has been back loads of times - 70 videos of it in four days ! - and it'sdefinitely eating the meat. A cute, sweet garden bird ripping out flesh from a rotting body ? I was quite weird. But after doing some research, I found that robins can be carnivorous, and they can even eat each other if they are hungry enough.

I have also seen other garden birds there too, like great tits and even a goldcrest, but none of those seem interested in the body.

I'm keeping my trail camera on the body for now to see what else turns up, and I'll let you know if there are any more developments !

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Leo said...

Robins seem to be mad for carrion. I skinned a roadkill fox in my garden and the robin sat next to me the whole time, eating scraps I threw to him. Didn't know it was widespread! Leo

Jake said...

I didn't either until I saw all the robins on the BBC Winterwatch carcass !

Jake said...

Thanks !

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