Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Artiodactyla / Cervidae / Cervus / Species
Cervus elaphus - Red deer (North American Elk) (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)

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INFORMATION AVAILABLE

The information in subject headings below has been incorporated to support various Wildpro Volumes and is not complete. Further detailed information will be added when a Deer Health and Management, or similar, Wildpro Volume is completed.

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Cerf rouge (French)
  • Rothirsch (German)
  • Edelhirsch (German)
  • Elk (North America)
  • Wapiti (North America)
  • Cervus canadensis (North America)
  • Cervus elaphus canadensis (North America)
  • Cervus canadensis nelsoni - Rocky Mountain wapiti
  • Cervus canadensis roosevelti Canadian or Roosevelt's wapiti
  • Cervus canadensis manitobensis - Manitoba Elk
  • Cervus canadensis nannodes - Tule Elk or Dwarf Wapiti 
  • Cervus elaphus elaphus
  • Cervus elapus scoticus
  • Cervus elaphus xanthopygus
  • Cervus elaphus corsicanus

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Calf
Names for males Stag
Names for females Hind

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General Appearance

Large red-brown deer without spots. Creamy rump patch around short beige tail. Branching antlers in male (B142, B144, D30)

Similar Species

  • In Britain: no other large red-brown deer without spots on adult. Creamy rump and beige tail (B142, D30)
  • First point of antler (brow point) at angle of more than 90° to main antler stem (B142).

In North America:

  • The other large brown cervid, the Moose Alces alces - Moose is larger, does not have a yellowish rump patch and tail and has a huge pendulous muzzle and dewlap. (B180)
Sexual Dimorphism Antlers in male only (B144)

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References

Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

Husbandry references:

(See individual husbandry pages)

ORGANISATIONS
(UK Contacts)

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

  • Deer (Cervidae)

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

  • Deer (Cervidae)

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Husbandry Information

Notes

--
Individual Techniques linked in Wildpro

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Length
  • 5.5-8.3 ft / 165-250cm (B144); 
  • Nose-to tail tip: males up to 201cm, females up to 180cm (B142).

In North America:

  • 6ft eight inches to nine ft nine inches / 2.03-2.97 m. (B180)
Height  4-5ft/120-150cm (B144); maximum1.2m (B142, D30); stag 120cm (B158.A8.w4)

In North America:

  • 4 ft six inches to 5ft / 1.37-1.5 m. (B180)
  • Cervus elaphus nelsoni and Cervus elaphus roosevelti: 127-150cm / 50-59 in. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus nannodes: about 127cm / 50 in. (B299)
Adult weight General
  • Cervus elaphus nannodes 180-230 kg / 400-500 lb. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus nelsoni maximum 468kg / 1032 lb.(B299)
  • Males about 25% heavier than females. (B299)
Male 220-484 lbs. / 100-220kg (B144);150kg (B158.A8.w4)

In North America:

  • 600-1,089 lb / 272-494 kg. (B180)
  • Cervus elaphus roosevelti: 454-544 kg / 1,000-1,200 lb for three individuals.(B299)
Female 154-300 lbs. / 70-150kg (B144)

In North America:

  • 450-650 lb / 204-295 kg.(B180)
New-born weight
  • 11-17.6 lbs. / 5-8kg (B144).
  • Hill ground: males 6.7kg, females 6.4kg (B142)
  • 6.5kg (B158.A1.w3)

In North America:

  • 25/40 lb / 11-18 kg. (B180)
  • 13-18 kg. (B147)
Growth rate --

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Head

General
  • Branching antlers, round in cross section in adult males, often but not always with double brow-point.
  • First antlers may be mere buttons or may be short spikes.
  • Usually number of points increases with age.
  • Occasional stag (hummel or nott) which does not develop antlers.

(B142, D30, B158.A8.w4)

  • Upper tines form a "cup". (B299)

Skull: Elongated; rostral region narrow. Condylobasilar length males 300-340mm, females 280-335mm (B142).

Nose:

Ears: Longer than tail (B142).


In North America:

  • Typically six tines on each side (twelve in all), with three lower tines - brow, bay and tray tines - sprouting from the main beam and the two upper tines usually pointing upwards in the same plane as the main beam. (B299)
  • Antlers of Cervus elaphus nelsoni are generally longer but lighter than those of Cervus elaphus roosevelti, with the tines sweapt back more and having a wider spread. The terminal tines in Cervus elaphus roosevelti are more likely to "cluster" than are those of Cervus elaphus nelsoni. Antlers of Cervus elaphus nannodes are similar to those of Cervus elaphus nelsoni, but smaller. (B299)
  • Occasionally up to 19 tines total for the pair of antlers and sometimes irregular formation of tines. (B299)
Dentition (Teeth)
  • I 0/3, C1/1, P3/3,M3/3. (B142, B147)
  • Deciduous teeth: I1/3, C 1/1, P3/3, M0/0
  • Upper canine pear-shaped.

(B142

Eyes --

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Legs and Tracks

  • Long legs.
  • Cloven hooves.

(D30)


In North America:

  • Cloven heart shape, much larger and rounder than those of Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer or Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer but smaller and rounder than those of Alces alces - Moose. The dewclaws may make a visible mark behind the main prints in snow or mud. (B180)
  • 4-4.5 inches / 10-11.5 cm long, with the prints of the hind feet placed slightly ahead of and overlapping the prints of the fore feet. Fore- and hind- prints are separate when running or bounding. (B180)
  • Stride length 30-60 inches / 75-150 cm and up to 14 ft / 4.25 m when bounding. (B180)
  • Hooves of Cervus elaphus nannodes are longer and slightly wider than those of the other North American subspecies. (B299)

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Tail

  • Length: 4.86in./12-15cm (B144); 15cm (B158.A8.w4)
  • Dorsal surface brown/beige (B142, D30)

In North America:

  • Very light in colour. (B299); yellowish. (B180)

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Coat / Pelage

Adult Female Summer coat: Hairs about 50mm long. No or little underwool
  • Dorsal and flanks: Red-brown - reddish, dark brown or beige.
  • Abdomen: off white, grey or yellowish.

Winter coat:

  • Thicker. hairs 60mm, underwool thick, 20mm. 
  • Brown, grey-brown or off-white, occasionally piebald.
  • Rump patch straw-coloured. (B158.A8.w4)

(B142, D30, B158.A8.w4)


In North America:

Summer coat: Sleek coat. (B299)

  • Body: Tawny brown. (B299)
  • Head, neck, legs: darker brown. (B299)
  • Rump patch: Yellowish. (B180); Yellowish brown. (B299)

Winter coat:

  • Body: greyish brown. (B299)
  • Head and neck: chestnut brown. (B299)
  • Legs: darker brown. (B299)
  • Rump patch: yellowish brown with lighter coloured edge.  (B299)
Variations (If present)
  • Stag in rut: Thick dark mane. Abdomen heavily stained dark brown/black
  • Dark dorsal stripe along neck and back sometimes seen, occasionally with flanking white spots (indistinct).

(B142)


In North America:

  • Albinism has been recorded. (B299)
Moult
  • Spring moult: Begins April-May, starts head, legs, anterior body. Finished by July-August.
  • Autumn moult: Coat growth begins September, completed usually by December.
New-born / Juvenile
  • Initially reddish-brown, flanks having white spots. 
  • First moult 2 months old, spots lost. 
  • Second moult in autumn, to give winter coat .

(B142)


In North America:

  • Coat at birth is spotted. (B299)
  • Juvenile coat is spotted until about three months old. (B180)

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Neonate (New-born) Characteristics

Hair coat present at birth. On feet and suckling shortly after birth.

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

  • Reproductive: Udder (visible late pregnancy and early lactation) has four teats (B142).
  • Scent glands: Active preorbital (lachrymal) gland, both sexes and fawns, also digital glands between hooves, ventral tail glands and hock (metatarsal) glands (B142, B144).
  • Digestive: Rumen about 23% of body weight. (B300.10.w10)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Reproductive Stages

Breeding Season
  • Seasonal. 
  • Rut end September to November (B142); late September to October (B158.A1.w3)

In North America:

  • Rut August to November, peak October to November. (B180)
  • Bugling of bulls may be heard from the end of August to the end of October. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus nannodes: rut starts in mid July. (B299)
Oestrus / Ovulation
  • Seasonally polyoestrous, October to February (B158.A1.w3)
  • Oestrus cycle about 18 days (B142); 18.8 + 1.7 days, 12-24 hour duration (B158.A1.w3)
  • Seasonally polyoestrous, oestrus cycle about 18 days with 1-2 days receptive. (B147)
Gestation / Pregnancy
  • 33-34 weeks (B144); 225-245 days (B142); 231 (226-238) days (B158.A1.w3)

In North America:

  • About nine months. (B180)
  • About 7.5-8 months. (B299)
  • 247-265 days (versus European about 235 days).(B147)
Parturition / Birth
  • Late May/June, occasionally as late as September (B158.A1.w3)

In North America:

  • Mainly June. (B299)
Neonatal development
  • First several days: calf left alone except when feeding; lies motionless with neck, head and ears flat out.
  • 7-10 days: begin following mother
  • "Creches" of calves may be formed in large hind groups
  • Start exploring at less than six months old (later for hind calves than stag calves)

(B142)

  • Stands quickly, follows dam at three days, grazes at four weeks, loses spots at three months. Lactation 4-7 months or even longer.
    Annual birth. Autumn rut, births late spring. (B147)
Litter size
  • One; two very rare (B142). One, rarely two (B144). One (B158.A1.w3)

In North America:

  • One or two. (B180)
  • Usually one, twins occur probably in less that 1% of pregnancies. (B299)
  • Usually a single calf. (B147)
Time between Litters / Litters per year
  • One per year (B142).
Lactation / Milk Production
  • Usually weaned by eight months (B142).
  • 9-12 months (B144).
Sexual Maturity
  • About 18 months (B144).
  • 16 months (B158.A1.w3)
  • Males: end of first year, but hold harem only by 5-6 years old (B142).
  • Females: two years four months or three years four months on hill land, but 15-16 years where more food, and even as calves in some areas (B142)
  • Sexual maturity in females at about 28 months. (B147)
  • Males are capable of mating in their second year but are unlikely to compete successfully with older bulls. (B147)
Longevity 15-20 years (B144)
  • More that 50% will die at less than one year old. Few individuals survive to 12-15 years in the wild; males generally die earlier than females. (B147)

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Natural Diet

Grasses, herbs, evergreen needles, buds, shoots, bark.
  • Grasses, sedges and rushes important in Britain.
  • Continental Europe: broadleaf browse important in some areas.
  • Winter: heather, blaeberry, brambles, holly, ivy.
  • Also ferns, lichens, tree shoots (deciduous and conifer), kelps and other seaweeds, bark (particularly rowan, willow, Norway spruce, Lodgepole pine)

Chew cast antlers.

(B142, B143, B144)


In North America

  • Grazer and browser; in western North America grass may comprise as much as 85% of the spring diet, but with a shift to forbes and woody plants in the summer, browse and dries grass in the fall (autumn), while conifers above the snow may be utilised in winter. (B147)

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Temperature --
Pulse --
Respiration --
Faeces
  • Up to 3cm long and 11.5cm diameter, acorn-shaped, light brown to black. 
  • Groups of individual pellets in winter, may stick together more in summer.

(B142)

Haematology / Biochemistry --
Chromosomes 2n = 48 (B142)
Other
  • Antlers cast March/April
  • Antlers cleaned (velvet shed) August/September.

(B158.A1.w3).

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

Partially selective feeder (B142).

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Parental Behaviour

  • Chase away calf of previous year before parturition.
  • Calf left lying alone except while feeding initially.
  • Follow mother from about 7-10 days old.
  • Often 'crèche' of several calves within large groups of hinds.

(B142)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality

Intra-specific
  • Generally gregarious
  • Segregation of males and females most of year.
  • Traditional wintering areas.
  • Group size very variable, affected by distribution and abundance of both feeding and resting areas.
  • Hinds:
  • Matriarchy.
  • Group of dominant hind and dependent offspring.
  • Mature daughters and offspring in adjacent overlapping ranges.
  • Stags:
  • Less stable semi-permanent groups.
  • Young and subdominant individuals in peripheral positions.
  • Linear hierarchy, age and body-size dependant.
  • In rut: male defends harem of females and young, or a "moving territory" around these.
  • Home ranges variable e.g. 200 hectares to more than 2,400 hectares.
  • Females stay in natal area.
  • Males often disperse at one to two years old or older, around rut or just prior to dam calving.
  • Mature stags settle in one area and establish seasonal ranges.
  • Traditional rutting areas may be some distance (several kilometres) from both summer and winter areas.

(B142, B143, B144)

  • Highly gregarious. Form herds which then usually occupy a discrete area. Sexes stay in separate herds for most of the year. (B147)

In North America:

  • Following parturition the mother and calf live alone for several weeks then cows, their young, and immature animals congregate so that herds of as many as 400 animals may have formed by mid-July. 
  • Bulls may be found alone or in groups of up to six animals. 
  • By September bulls have shed their velvet and begin to gather harems. 
    • These are held mainly by older bulls and may consist of 15-20 cows, but not on a defined territory. 
  • Mating is complete by about mid-October and males separate from females. 
  • In the limited areas of the winter ranges groups as large as 1,000 individuals may form. (B147)
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

  • Males hold territory in rut (B142).
  • Male Cervus deer spray urine onto their bellies and forequarters during the rut. (B147)

In North America:

  • By September bulls have shed their velvet and begin to gather harems. 
    • These are held mainly by older bulls and may consist of 15-20 cows, but not on a defined territory. 
  • Stags spray urine and thrash vegetation with their antlers.
  • Females in the harem are actively herded by the stag with constant attention and threatening postures..
  • If display is insufficient stags may fight: the two stags walk parallel then suddenly turn and lock antlers, pushing and twisting, trying to unbalance the opponent. About 5% of males may die from fighting each year.
  • Mating is complete by about mid-October and males separate from females. 

(B147)

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Predation in Wild

  • Lynx, wolf (B144).
  • Very young calves: golden eagle, foxes (B142).

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Activity Patterns

  • Slow stride or trot normal.
  • Gallop short distances.
  • Swim well.
  • Move between areas of cover and feeding areas

(B142)


In North America:

  • Movement through forests is rapid and quiet. 
  • Speed (bulls) of up to 35 mph / 55 km/h 
  • Swim well.

(B180)

  • Strong swimmers - can easily cross lakes one mile wide. (B299)

Vocalisations:

  • Hoarse bark of alarm; prolonged scream in alarmed calves. Low bleat of calves calling for their mother. Bulls "bugle" in the rutting season. Cows may also give a bugle-type call particularly in May and June. (B299)
  • Voice: Stags mating call high-pitched bugle, powerful. (compared to the deep roar of European stags, to carry through forests). (B147)
Circadian

 

  • Active day and night.
  • Longest activity periods crepuscular or nocturnal.
  • More nocturnal where often disturbed.
  • In woodlands may remain in cover during daylight.
  • In open hill country may move to higher ground in daytime and lower altitudes for night.

(B142, B143, B144)


In North America:

  • Mainly nocturnal; most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). (B180)

  • Summer ranges are larger than winter ranges.(B147)

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

  • Open woodland and woodland edge (deciduous, mixed and coniferous).
  • Also open moorland, alpine meadows, semi-arid areas, flood plains.

(B142, B143, B144, D30)


In North America:

  • Summer: mainly high open pastures. (B180)
  • Winter: mainly lower wooded slopes, often densely wooded areas. (B180)
  • "Mountainous and wooded terrain, with large areas of open grassland." (B299)
  • Originally in dense coniferous forests, open hardwood forests, chaparral and grasslands. Now mainly open country. (B147)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

--

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal
  • Holarctic: North America, Europe, central Asian mountains, southern Siberia, Far East, North Africa.
  • Europe: widespread but not northern Scandinavia, Finland, some Mediterranean islands. Extinct in Albania.
  • Southwards to 33°N in Africa, northwards to 65°N in Norway (just south of Arctic Circle).
  • In Britain: Scottish Highlands, and Islands, south-west Scotland, Exmoor. Scattered in north-west England, East Anglia. Islands include: Arran, Bute, Islay, Jura, Mull, Pabbay, Raasay, Rhum, Scalpay, Scarba, Seil, Skye, North Uist, South Uist, North Harris, South Lewis.

(B142, B143).

  • Found at altitudes of 0-8000ft/0-2750m (B144)
  • Annual migration between winter and summer grounds (B144).

In North America:

  • Eastern British Columbia, central Alberta, central Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba southward to central New Mexico and Arizona. Large populations are found in the states of Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Also found along the West Coast from Vancouver Island to California, with isolated populations in other parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Minnesota and Michigan. In some of the the eastern states, such as Pennsylvania, there are small populations. (B180)
  • Cervus elaphus nelsoni: Western North America except the coats. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus roosevelti: Western North America - coastal areas. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus manitobensis: Saskatchewan, south-west Manitoba. (B299)
  • Cebrus alaphus nannodes: California. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus canadensis (extinct): eastern and central parts of north America. Original range from the northern praries to Alabama, the Carolinas and probably Georgia.Became extinct in the nineteenth or early twentieth century due to unregulated hunting.  (B147)
  • Cervus elaphus merriami, southwestern USA and Mexico, became extinct in the nineteenth or early twentieth century due to unregulated hunting. (B147)

Migration:

  • In mountainous areas in particular, migrate to wintering grounds usually after the rut; return early to the mountains in spring.  (B299)
  • Populations in the western mountains migrate to lower elevations in winter. There is some variation in migration, with for example 25% of the population from Jackson Hole Refuge in Wyoming remaining in the same range all year while the remainder of the population moves away as far as 97km distant. (B147)
Occasional and Accidental --
Introduced
  • Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Kentucky (USA) (B142)
  • Ireland, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand (B143)

In North America:

  • Cervus elaphus roosevelti: introduced to Afognak Island, off Alaska. (B299)
  • Cervus elaphus nelsoni: introduced in some areas. (B299)
  • Western elk have been successfully introduced into Michigan and Pennsylvania.  (B147)

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Conservation

Intraspecific variation

  • Polytypic species with variety of freely-interbreeding subspecies. Distinct subspecies found on large islands are usually smaller than mainland animals (B143).
  • Cervus elaphus elaphus
  • Cervus elapus scoticus, in Britain, not generally recognised as separate subspecies.
  • Cervus elaphus canadensis - Wapiti (American Elk), in North America (larger)
  • Cervus elaphus xanthopygus, in North-east Asia (larger)
  • Cervus elaphus corsicanus (B143)

(B142, B143)

  • In general the North American wapiti or elk is now considered to be part of Cervus elaphus, rather than a separate species Cervus canadensis although some authorities (e.g. B299) do consider them to be separate. If they are two species then opinions vary regarding which subspecies are included within which species: whether the separation is at the Bering Strait or along the Tien Shan Mountains and the Gobi Desert, with the Asian populations north and east of that line being included with the North American populations. (B147)

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
(Importance)
  • Not generally endangered, problem with overpopulation in some areas. 

  • Threats to Asian and North African red deer

(B142, B144)

  • In Britain: native although many populations introduced; common and increasing in numbers. Pre-breeding population estimate of about 360,000 including 12,500 in England, 347,000 in Scotland, less than 50 in Wales. This does not include park populations (about 7,500) or farmed deer. Population estimate considered likely to be inaccurate by no more than 25% in either direction (B221).

General Legislation
  • Bern Convention Appendix III; Cervus elaphus corsicanus Appendix II (B143)

  • EU Habitats & Species Directive Annex II and Annex IV (Cervus elaphus corsicanus only)

  • See: Deer Act 1991
  • See: Deer (Scotland) Act 1996
CITES listing --
Red-data book listing
  • Cervus elaphus corsicanus - Endangered (B143)
Threats
Captive Populations  
Trade  

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