Country: Nature Notes

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TRADITIONALLY, TOMORROW in the Scottish Highlands is Lath na Damhair, the Day of the Roaring, when red-deer stags break out of their all-male groups and begin wandering in search of hinds at the start of the annual rut. The break-out is often heralded by wild behaviour: the stags charge about in huge groups, racing this way and that before splitting off individually.

The rut creates fierce excitement among the deer. A master stag will seek to control a harem of anything up 30 hinds and calves. To increase his personal attraction, he urinates in peaty wallows, then rolls in them until black from head to foot. He issues challenges to contenders by means of frequent roars - like the bellowing of bulls - and parades ceaselessly back and forth, chivvying his ladies and warding off marauders. Because of all this activity, and because they stop eating for the duration, stags can lose a third of their body weight in a month.

If a rival persists in coming close, there is likely to be a fight. The two combatants often walk side by side for a few yards in a ritual advance, then suddenly wheel inwards and lock antlers with a crash. Deaths are rare, but can occur if the tine of an antler penetrates the ribcage. More often, the defeated stag wanders off in search of easier conquests.