Sika Deer

Banner 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.

Cervus nippon



Grasses and plant material

70-90 lbs, 3-5.5 ft long, 2.5 ft tall

Forests, mountains, and grasslands, introduced worldwide, originally from Japan

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.
  • Sika deer can live 15-18 years in the wild, or up to 25 years in captivity.
  • Sika deer were introduced to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1916 to be utilized for hunting.
  • While Sika deer are not native to Virginia, they are at Maymont to represent an exotic or introduced species.
  • Sika deer are unique in that they keep their white spots throughout their lives, while their white-tailed deer cousins lose their spots as they reach adulthood.

Adopt an Animal

Did you know it takes $500,000 each year to feed and care for the animals at Maymont? Your support of the Maymont Adopt an Animal Program helps provide food, care and enrichment to keep the rescued animals active, healthy and engaged.