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Sika Deer

Cervus nippon

Sika deer are reddish-brown with white spots on the back. (Philip Hay/Flickr)
Sika deer are reddish-brown with white spots on the back. (Philip Hay/Flickr)

The sika deer is a small, brown elk that lives in quiet marshes and forested wetlands on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland.


The sika deer varies in color from reddish-brown in the summer to dark brown or black in the winter. It has white spots on its back and a white rump. Males have narrow antlers and a dark, shaggy mane on the neck. Sika deer grow to about 2.5 feet tall at the rump. Males usually weigh about 90 pounds, while females usually weigh about 70 pounds.


Lives in isolated marshes, wetlands and swamps and thick loblolly pine forests. Mostly nocturnal. The sexes live separately except during breeding season: females usually live in small groups with their young, while males live alone during fall and winter and in groups of other males during spring and summer.


Native to Japan, Taiwan and eastern Asia; found throughout the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, mostly in southern Dorchester County but also in Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Females have a home range of about 150 acres, while males have a home range of nearly 500 acres. 


The sika deer feeds at night on plants, grasses, marsh vegetation and crops such as corn and soybeans.


No natural predators in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but humans hunt sika deer for their meat.


These deer communicate with one another using at least 10 different sounds. When alarmed, they emit a distinctive short, high-pitched “bark." Females use soft bleats and whistles to communicate with their young and other females. During breeding, males emit a long, multi-pitched wail.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Breeding occurs in autumn, beginning in late September. After about seven months (usually in May), the female gives birth to a single calf. Most sika deer breed in their second year, but about one-quarter breed in their first year.

Other Facts:

  • Although they are called deer, sika deer are actually a member of the elk family. They are also called sika elk or Asian elk.
  • Males are called “stags” and females are called “hinds” or “cows."
  • They were first introduced in the Chesapeake Bay watershed on James Island in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1916.
  • Although they are an exotic species, sika deer are not considered invasive because they do not directly compete with native wildlife for food and habitat.

Sources and Additional Information:


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