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Deer Body Language: Getting Spooked

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This post is about fallow deers' behavior when getting spooked. We are fallow deer farmers and this is our interpretations based solely on the observations of our animals.

curious but careful deer

What Are Deer Afraid of?

Anything unusual, really. Shape, noise, anybody's behavior. Deer are 'neophobes'. Neophobia is an irrational fear of anything new and unusual.

So deer get scared easily, but they also adapt to things over time. For example, you put a new object, like a trough in the paddock and you get lots of scared deer. Some panic and run the other direction, others slowly investigate from a safe distance. But with time they get used to it being there, and will eventually come close to have a sniff, and at some point even take a sip of water. The bucket will eventually blend into the background for them, up until the wind knocks it off and now it is lying on the side and so visually it has acquired a different shape and the deer won't come near it again. Sometimes they'll be scared if the previously 'safe to be around' object has moved. They remember where each thing is supposed to be.

Deer Body Language When Scared

What do deer do when they get scared? How can one tell the animal is feeling uneasy? Well, after watching our deer daily for years, we can notice the signs of the different levels of their distress. From light caution to panic, there's a spectrum of worry that can possess a deer.

For example

Here's Whiney being cautious and alert, while moving towards food in an unfamiliar setting:

carefully treading deer

Notice her body is outstretched, neck lowered, as she's making slow but big steps forward. Steps are very light, the animal is trying to avoid being detected, sneaking.

And here's some degree of anxiety in the presence of perceived possible threat, when the deer knows it's being seen, the 'adversary' is watching:

spooked deer walking

Basically, a deer is 'walking like an Egyptian', as the famous song goes. If you see that - means the animal is aware and is even displaying a bit of aggression, in the form of stomping. The doe is trying to make herself look more threatening, make it out that she's heavy. Similar thing bucks do every rut. Stomp about, but with an even prouder demeaner. This one gives off her fear in her neck's movements. It's not proudly outstretched, it's moving back and forth in a kind of groovy disco manner.))

The story behing this video cut is that a newborn fawn is closeby and the doe wants to warn everybody to keep away. Oh and the reason she's opening her mouth while walking is because she's chewing a carrot I threw at her. 

Finally, this picture below obviously shows a doe in full panic mode:

scared fallow deer running

Aside from body language, there are also vocalizations. And when deer feel fright they bark like dogs.

Spooky Story: A Doe and a Bread Slice

Single doe comes upon a suspicious bread slice

This 'chilling' story happenned during NZ summer draught of 2019. A doe stumbled upon a goodie - a bread slice! And tried to escape from it! Not that fast, though, the cunning toast chased her down and got itself eaten)))

Deer Leaping Away When Frightened

What do the deer do when they feel frightened? They immediately jump away. And if they're really scared they'll try to run away. If they can't - they'll panic and try to break away. Jump the fence, break the fence, break through anything or anyone in their way...

Here's a good illustration of how it looks. The buck gets a sniff of new food ... and ... where's he gone?

It may be hard to believe that an animal would react so dramatically to simply a new scent, but deer take them very seriously. New often means danger in their vocabulary. If it is at least similar to what they've come across before - fine, they'll inspect further, but if it's totally novel - 'I better run'!  

BTW,  a video (gif) with no sound has been circulating on the internet purportedly showing a sneezing deer, while in fact it most certainly is a frightened deer awkwardly leaping away and slipping in water. Most likely after having seen or sniffed something in there that spooked him. So we would like to take this opportunity to educate our deer readers :) about that unfortunate misinformation.

Ever seen a deer sneeze?

We've decided to quickly whip up a short compilation of deer sneezing and not sneezing but ... leaping away in fright. 

Last modified 04 December 2023 at 16:16

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