Red deer lock antlers for thrilling annual rut at RSPB Minsmere

Early morning deer rutting at RSPB Minsmere

Early morning deer rutting at RSPB Minsmere

It’s one of the most spectacular annual events in the wildlife spotting calendar – and a Suffolk nature reserve provides one of the best locations to get close to the unfolding drama.

Early morning deer rutting at RSPB Minsmere

Early morning deer rutting at RSPB Minsmere

While the shortening days and falling temperature of autumn signal hibernation for much of the animal world, for the majestic deer population it’s a cue to enter the arena and battle for dominance.

With often violent conclusion, the highly charged rut sees the male of the species vie for a chance to mate with as many females as possible.

The prelude to competition begins as early as August, when the deer shed velvet from their antlers against the bark of trees, while also strengthening their neck muscles for the rut.

But only in October does the peak season begin, after the males have already made efforts to intimidate their rivals and attract the mature females.

When bellowing and barrel-chested posturing fails to settle the score, the bucks lock antlers for the frenzy of the autumn rut – and there are several opportunities to see it happen at RSPB Minsmere.

RSPB marketing and publicity officer, Ian Barthorpe said: “The deer rut is one of the most spectacular wildlife events we get to see in Britain. We’re lucky on the Suffolk coast to have one of the largest herds.

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“It can be very violent but doesn’t actually happen too often. The deer don’t want to fight, because they could cause themselves a lot of damage. Only when two evenly matched males encounter one another can there be violent conflict.

“The rut is all about the right to win control of as many females as possible, so the stronger males can mate and ensure their genes are passed down to the next generation.”

The rut can be seen from the Westleton Heath public viewpoint at Minsmere.

Daily four-wheel-drive red deer safaris take place at the reserve until Sunday, October 25, but the 90 minute trips, which include hire of a reserve guide, are almost fully booked. Visitors can enquire about next autumn’s safaris by calling 01728 648281.

One of the country’s biggest herds of red deer lives between the Alde and Blyth estuaries on the Suffolk coast.

The bucks arrive on the reserve from miles around to find the females, or ‘hinds’, coming into season.

The rut is timed for October so the hinds give birth to single calves from late May to June.

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