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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.

Appearance:

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.

Habitat:

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.

Range:

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. 

Feeding:

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

Predators:

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

Voice:

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:

  • Also called sika elk or Asian elk
  • Males are called “stags” and females are called “hinds” or “cows”
  • Although they are called deer, sika deer are actually a member of the elk family
  • First introduced in the Chesapeake Bay watershed on James Island in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1916
  • Although it is 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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