The red deer is the largest ungulate in the National Park. In the middle of the 19th century these magnificent animals had been eradicated from the region. 50 years later they reappeared, migrating from northern and central Graubünden.
The two principal factors which draw red deer to the National Park are tranquillity and food. Restriction of visitors to a network of well-defined paths keeps disturbance to a minimum. Around 2000 red deer remain in the Park, but only during the five summer months. After the rut in mid-October they leave the Park and migrate to the sunny slopes of the main valleys of the Engadine, Val Müstair and Vinschgau. (Val Trupchun, Val Mingèr, Murter saddle)
If you would like to know more about the red deer in the Swiss National Park, we recommend „Der Rothirsch im Schweizerischen Nationalpark“, written by our director, Dr. Heinrich Haller. It is available (in German) at the National Park Centre in Zernez, or via our shop online.
Red deer hinds generally live in herds, together with their calves and young animals born the previous year.
In their first year young deer, or fawns, have no antlers. Hinds are more closely attached to their female young than their male offspring. Stag calves remain with the herd for maximum two years.
Except during the rutting season, red deer males live in herds.
A stag’s antlers serve both to impress and to fight. Formed of bone, they are grown annually, between March and July, and are cast at the end of winter. Stags carry antlers from their second year onwards to the end of their life.
During growth the new antlers are covered by the “velvet” - a soft, blood-filled bone-forming tissue. Once the antlers have grown to full-size, the velvet is shed, often assisted by fraying (rubbing against trees and bushes). The brownish colour of the antlers is the result of staining by blood and earth remains.
The red deer rutting period in September and Otober is one of the highlights of the National Park.
During the rut fierce fights take place between stags claiming their hinds. The so-called “master” stags vigourously defend their harems against “intruders”.
These fights often cause injury or, more rarely, death. The winner is usually the fitter of the two stags, not necessarily the one with the most impressive antlers.
It is not uncommon for a stag to lose one or other of its antlers during a fight, which subsequently puts him at a disadvantage to his opponent.
The stags pursue the rutting hinds until such time as they permit them to mount. It is the hind that determines the selection of a mating partner, as well as the time.
Fawns are born from early to mid-June. Shortly after birth, they take their first timid steps and begin to suckle from their mother.
Before giving birth, hinds move away from the herd. Any disturbance can have a negative influence on the birth. Fawns weigh between 5 and 10 kg and are fully developed at birth. The mother’s first contact with her fawn is when she licks it clean immediately after it is born.
At birth fawns are well camouflaged by their coat, which is brown with white spots. The spots slowly disapppear during the summer.
It is not easy to find a well-hidden fawn. If the mother moves away, the fawn emits a loud cry to draw attention. Hinds recognise the cry of their own young. Glands situated below the eyes enable fawns to remain in contact with their mother. When in distress, these glands emit a secretion that the mother is able to smell from a distance.