Quick facts

Common name(s): sika deer

Scientific name: Cervus nippon

Family: Cervidae

Habitat: coniferous and deciduous woodland

Diet: grasses, heather, sedges, occasionally bark and tree shoots

Predators: no natural predators

Origin: non-native

What do sika deer look like?

Sika deer are medium in size, standing up to a metre tall at the shoulder. In summer, they have a similar coat colour to the fallow deer: yellow-brown with white spots; changing to a greyish-brown during winter. Sika deer have a small head in comparison to their body, with a distinct furrowed brow giving them an almost angry expression. Only males, known as stags, have antlers.

Not to be confused with: fallow deer. Summer-coat sika can look very similar to fallow deer. An easy way to tell the two apart is to look at the rump. Fallow deer have long tails, with a black stripe running down its length. Sika tails are shorter and normally all white. Male fallow deer have broad, flattened antlers, while sika antlers are pointed.

Winter-coat sika may be confused with red deer. Red deer are considerably larger with a cream or buff rump, compared to the sika’s white. Red stags also have much larger antlers.

What do sika deer eat?

These deer have a diet of grasses, heather, sedges and occasionally tree bark and shoots.

Did you know?

Sika deer don’t have a set of incisors at the top of their mouths; instead, they have a hard pad which works to tear through grass and vegetation.

Credit: Ross Hoddinott / naturepl.com

How do sika deer breed?

The breeding season for sika deer usually takes place from early September to November. Males will often be heard making high-pitched noises or seen fighting with each other to help them secure a mate. Calves are normally born in May or June and will normally reach independence after around 10 to 12 months.

Did you know?

While increasing in the UK, sika deer have become extinct in large parts of their native range.

Where do sika deer live?

Sika deer are native to eastern Asia but were introduced to deer parks in the UK in 1860. They are now found in scattered populations across the UK, with the greatest numbers in Scotland. There are also significant populations in Cumbria, Dorset and the New Forest. They favour coniferous woods and heathland but can be found in a variety of habitats.

Signs and spotting tips

Listen out for the male’s loud whistling call during the mating season, but be sure not to get too close as males can be aggressive at this time of year. Keep an eye out for sika deer tracks on the ground; they have similar tracks to red and fallow dee, however, theirs are thinner and smaller.

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

Threats and conservation

The sika deer population is growing in both numbers and range. As a non-native species with no natural predators, sika densities can reach extremely high levels with a potentially negative impact on the environment. For example, over-grazing can prevent the regeneration of woodland, thereby affecting woodland structure and tree species composition. This has knock-on effects for other species of woodland wildlife. As a result, some populations are culled to control their spread and reduce habitat damage.

Sika deer may also have a negative impact on native red deer. In areas where they both occur, the two species will sometimes interbreed, giving birth to hybrids. Over time this could lead to the number of true red deer being gradually reduced.

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