Sika Deer

Natural History

Originally from Asia, sika deer (Cervus nippon) were introduced to Assateague Island on Virginia’s eastern shore to be used for hunting. They are usually found in forests or dense cover, and are often seen grazing while standing in water. They are primarily nocturnal (active at night), but can be seen in daylight hours if they are comfortable with their habitat. They are usually solitary or can be found in very small herds. While these deer are not native to Virginia, they are at Maymont to represent an exotic, or introduced, species.

Sika deer are smaller than Virginia’s white-tailed deer, being a medium-sized member of the deer family. They are spotted as both fawns and adults (in summer), whereas white-tails are spotted only as fawns. Sika deer also have a dark stripe down their back from head to tail, which the white-tailed deer lack. Both have a white underside to their tails. Some white-tailed deer herds are very large, but not so with sika deer. As with all deer, the sika deer are herbivores (plant eaters). They eat a variety of plants but primarily feed on grasses in summer and on woody plants in winter. The male does not feed until late in the rutting season; the female moves between male territories and feeds during the breeding period.

Fun Facts

  • “Sika” means “deer” in Japanese.
  • A successful male may mate with up to 12 females.
  • Sika deer can jump up to 30 feet in one bound.
  • They have at least 10 different vocalizations, including soft whistles, loud screams, horse-like neighs, goat-like bleating and alarm calls.
  • Sika deer are excellent swimmers.