E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Dama dama Linnaeus
European Fallow Deer; Fallow Deer
Family: Cervidae
Species account author: David Shackleton
Extracted from the Hoofed Mammals of British Columbia
Photo of species

© David Shackleton  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #8527)

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Species Information

The European Fallow Deer is an average-sized deer with slender legs and medium-sized ears. The males have a conspicuous bump (the larynx) on the throat, like an Adam’s apple. There are several colour variations. The summer coat colour in the most typical form is a light reddish brown with white spots scattered over the back and sides, and a horizontal row of spots that sometimes merge into a single stripe midway along each side, often with a darkish horizontal stripe below. Many individuals with this coat type have a narrow, dark dorsal stripe running from the nape of the neck to the tail. The European Fallow Deer also has long individual hairs scattered over its body. The belly is white and the undersides of the neck and chest are also light or white. The tail is moderately long and covered with long hair from the tip to the base, usually dark brown or black on the upper surface and white on the under surface. Except for a patch of bare skin around the ano-genital region, the hairs on the rump beneath and on either side of the tail are also white with a contrasting outer black stripe on either side that may connect at the base of the tail. These two stripes create a heart-shaped pattern around the tail. In winter, the upper body becomes a dark reddish brown and the spots may be difficult to see. Males often have a small dark cap from the base of the antlers to just between the eyes. Because this dark cap stops just above the eyes, there can be the appearance of a light upper eye-ring. The penis sheath ends with a conspicuous tuft of hair (the brush). Young of the year are spotted like the adults. Fallow Deer have antorbital, preputial (at the end of the penis), metatarsal and rear interdigital glands. Females have four teats.

The European Fallow Deer has two other main colour phases: a non-spotted, creamy or buff white variety that lacks the dark cap, and a dark brown, almost black form that may or may not have faintly visible spots. Some of the dark forms without spots often lack the light belly, although in others it is a lighter brown. The dark brown forms usually retain the black tail and black marks on the rump. The young of these other colour forms are similar to the adult’s coloration, although in the darker colour phases, light spots may be present.

The adult male Fallow Deer’s antlers are erect and strongly palmate on the upper half. The main beam is round in cross-section for the first half of its length. Branching off this beam is a large, curved brow tine followed by another large, curved, forward-pointed tine about halfway along. The last third or half of the main beam ends in a palmated area with a series of small points projecting from its upper and rear edges, and sometimes with one larger tine at its base that projects backwards. The orientation of the antlers is such that they sweep back and up from the head, with the palmation visible in greatest profile from the side.



In adults, the coat colour of all colour variants differs from that of any of the Mule Deer group or the White-tailed Deer. Fallow Deer are the only deer in British Columbia in which the adults have a spotted coat. The small white rump patch with its heart-shaped black border is also distinctive of Fallow Deer. The antler form with its main beam and first two forward pointing tines, followed by the palmated upper half, wider at the top than at the bottom, is unique among any deer in B.C.

For skulls, the vomer does not divide the posterior nares in Fallow Deer, and the shape of the opening on its ventral side is more pointed than it is in Odocoilid deer skulls. In the lower jaw, the first incisor is at least twice as wide as the others, and the premolars and molars, especially on lower jaw are larger than those in comparable-sized Odocoilid deer skulls. Tracks and faeces would be difficult to distinguish from native Odocoilid deer such as Columbian Black-tailed Deer.

Gestation is believed to be between 150 and 220 days. Usually one young is born weighing between 2 and 4 kg, and twins are rare on Sidney Island. Births in B.C. occur in late May and in June. The female gives birth in seclusion or occasionally within the herd; the young are hiders. Fallow Deer reach sexual maturity at 18 months, and females give birth for the first time either at two or three years of age. As is typical in most ungulates, most young males, though capable of breeding, are prevented from doing so by older, dominant males. Consequently, most male Fallow Deer begin mating when around five or six years old. But when overhunting removed many mature males on Sidney Island, younger males mated with females.

On the Gulf Islands, they will occasionally eat Eel-grass washed up on the beach. Evidence of heavy browsing on the islands is shown by a distinct browse line on the trees, and Fallow Deer will even stand on their hind legs to reach higher vegetation.
Age determination and life expectancy

The longevity of Fallow Deer in B.C. is unknown.
Predators and other mortality factors

Fallow Deer have no major predators (other than humans) on the Gulf Islands that they inhabit in B.C. Old age and starvation are the most probable natural mortality factors. When alarmed, they may make a short barking sound and hold their tail up and curled slightly over the back showing the white underside. Alarmed Fallow Deer also use a less pronounced form of the peculiar bouncing gait called stotting that is more typical of Mule Deer. Fallow Deer are hunted in Sidney Island in a private section of the Island, and there is also a carefully regulated limited entry hunt in the Sidney Spit Marine Park. At one time the population on James Island was periodically culled.
Social organization, grouping and behaviour

They are active mainly at night between dusk and dawn when they use open areas to graze, but can be seen throughout the day in the forest. For most of the year, adult males live in small groups (usually two to five members), separate from females and young (who usually form groups of five to twenty).

On Sidney Island, the rut occurs in October, and probably peaks about mid October. Although Fallow Deer mating systems in British Columbia have not been studied, elsewhere they can vary among populations, perhaps in response to deer density. In some populations, a single male guards a group of females (his harem) against other males, while in others a behaviour called lekking occurs. Lekking is rare in mammals, although not uncommon in birds. Fallow Deer is the only deer known to engage in lekking behaviour. It involves males congregating in a relatively small area called an arena, on which each adult male establishes a small territory, only a few metres in diameter. Territories are usually occupied around dawn and dusk each day when a male defends it from neighbouring males. He also displays to attract females onto his territory. When he succeeds, he tries to keep the females there long enough to court and copulate with them. Lekking is an amazing phenomenon to watch; the territorial males are almost constantly vocalizing and jerking their heads up and down. The call is a grunting snort, and the head nodding draws attention to their palmate antlers. While vocalizing, a territorial male also uses the tuft of hair on the end of the penis sheath to scatter urine over himself, probably along with glandular secretions from the preputial gland. Presumably, these odours attract females. When not trying to keep females on their small territories, males fight with neighbours, and smaller males rush in and try to steal females.


European Fallow Deer are mixed grazer-browsers. They prefer open forests and adjacent grasslands that together provide both grazing and browsing opportunities.


Fallow Deer is an introduced species whose natural distribution is the Mediterranean region of the Middle East and southeastern Europe. Since at least the neolithic, Fallow Deer have been widely introduced into many countries. In British Columbia, Fallow Deer were recently introduced from the Duke of Devonshire’s Estate in England to James Island, probably around 1908. From there they apparently swam across to Sidney Island and by the 1950s were becoming well established. There are also reliable reports of this deer on D’Arcy Island, where they may have swum to from either Sidney or James islands. They also occur on Mayne Island. In the early 1930s, attempts were made to introduce these deer from James Island onto other southern Gulf Islands (Saltspring and Pender), as well as to the Alberni district on Vancouver Island, but none were successful. No recent sightings have been reported on Saltspring Island, but Fallow Deer have been seen in parts of the lower Fraser River valley where they are believed to have escaped from the Vancouver Game Farm. But as yet, there are no reports of them breeding on the mainland.

Outside game farms and zoos, Sidney Spit Provincial Park on the north end of Sidney Island probably provides the best opportunity to see these deer in B.C., especially after the rut when many mature males move into the park. Boaters often see these deer along the shoreline.


Authorities disagree whether there are one or two species of European Fallow Deer, but most place it in its own genus, Dama, although some include it in the genus Cervus. If the two forms are considered separate species, the correct names are the European Fallow Deer (Dama dama) and the Mesopotamian or Persian Fallow Deer (Dama mesopotamica). If they are regarded as a single species, it is referred to as Fallow Deer (Dama dama) with two subspecies: D. d. dama and D. d. mesopotamica. Fallow Deer originated in the eastern Mediterranean region of southern Europe and Iran, and possibly, parts of North Africa. The type specimen of European Fallow Deer came from an introduced population in Sweden.


Fallow Deer are a popular species for game ranching in the province. They are farmed for their meat (venison) and to a lesser extent for their antlers (velvet), which are not regarded as the best grade for the medicinal trade.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
ExoticSNAExoticNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

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General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-04-22 9:24:56 AM]
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