Cervus nippon yakushimae
Sika deer are actually small Japanese elk that became established on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore when Clement Henry released them on James Island in 1916. Sika deer were also released and established populations on Assateague Island during the 1920s. Over the years they have expanded their range into marshy areas of western Somerset, Wicomico and Caroline counties.
Today, sika deer inhabit all of the lower Eastern Shore counties, with the highest density in the marshes and wetlands of southern Dorchester County. Sikas thrive in the Bay’s marshy habitat and do not tend to expand their range into more centrally located uplands that are rarely (if ever) inundated by water. They feed dusk through dawn on marsh vegetation, grasses and agricultural crops such as corn and soybeans.
Differing in many ways from our native whitetail, the tiny sika is shorter in stature (standing about 2 ½ feet at the rump) with a reddish-brown coat that turns dark in winter. Stags (males) have shaggy manes with narrow antlers that sweep backward rather than forward. And, unlike whitetails that raise their tails like flags when alarmed, sikas have round white rump patches that flare outward when they are excited.
Both male and female sika deer use vocalizations to communicate, emitting a distinct bark when alarmed. Females (cows) often use soft bleats and whistles to communicate with offspring (usually one calf per season), and stags are very territorial, keeping harems of cows and becoming very vocal during early morning and late afternoon.
Photo of Sika Deer courtesy of John White
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