Roe deer: the smallest deer in Portugal and Europe

The roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) of the Cervidae family is the smallest European deer and one of the inhabitants of the properties under responsible forest management by The Navigator Company, especially in the regions of Malcata, Pampilhosa, Góis, Mogadouro and Zambujo. Among its particular traits we would like to highlight the fact that, at the end of the heat, and with the decrease in territoriality, males begin to lose their stems and become more tolerant of each other and start forming groups.

The roe deer may be the smallest of its kind, but it is also one of the most elegant. Its length can go up to 1.35 meters, its height is between 63 and 67 centimetres and its weight ranges from 15 to 35 kilos. To reach this it feeds on hundreds of different plants, from roots to flowers, such as  shoot from shrubs and trees like  chestnut, oak, willow and laurel trees, berries and other fruits of woody, herbaceous plants, flowers and sometimes fungi. For all this, it is considered a generalist herbivore that changes its eating habits according to the season.

In winter, for example, its diet becomes less varied given the scarcity of food and so therefore the roe deer increases the consumption of seeds and fruits as this is a more concentrated vegetable matter. To access this type of food, the Capreolus capreolus species lives in hardwood, conifer forests, Mediterranean forests and farmlands and can be seen in eucalyptus fields, living on average eight to nine years, although females have a longer life expectancy.

Physically, its hind limbs are wider and elevated compared to its forelimbs, making it quite skilled at making giant leaps. One of the main distinguishing features of this genus is the presence of antlers in the male, renewed every year, in addition to the shape of the white anal shield that surrounds the tail and which has the shape of a kidney, while in females it resembles an inverted heart.

The change of coat takes place twice during the year: in winter it varies from greyish-brown, the thickest and longest coat, while in summer the short and fine coat has a reddish-brown colour.

The reproduction of the species takes place at the end of the summer (between July and August) when the mating ritual begins.

This deer has the ability to give birth to one to three offspring, usually in late May or early June and its pregnancy lasts 10 months and not 7 as is common in other cervids. The reason behind this is really impressive and shows how wise nature is. To make births coincide in early summer, when there is more food available, these females have the unique ability to make a “suspended gestation”. That is, the embryo is “asleep” for about 5 months, until in January, when the “real” embryonic development begins, which lasts for about another 4 months.

However, given that infant mortality is particularly high in the first year of life, roe deer cubs stay  with their mothers, hiding in the vegetation most of the time waiting for breastfeeding and cleaning moments until they are no longer dependent on breast milk and are ready to face the world on their own. Therefore, if you find a cub alone, you should not touch it or try to move it, as the mother may be around.

Did you know that…

The roe deer is an important species of prey for carnivores such as the Iberian wolf and the fox (predation of offspring), as well as for wild dogs and plays an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

In Portugal, according to the Red Book of Mammals (2023) the conservation status of the roe deer is Least Concern (LC) and there is an explanation for it. Although the estimated population is below 10,000 individuals in adult age, since the mid 20th century we have been witnessing an expansion trend as regards this species, largely due to their natural dispersal in the mountains of the North and Spain, and as a result of projects of reintroduction and conservation of the species. This obviously makes us even more motivated to preserve this species in the properties managed by Navigator.

How to tend to this species?

When it comes to care for the Capreolus capreolus, it is important to start by identifying the threats to its expansion. Most of them are caused by humans, such as tramplings (albeit involuntarily), tourism and activities of a disorderly nature, habitat destruction and disruptions  and the occurrence of wild dogs, in addition to illegal hunting.

This is a forest species and is covered by biodiversity conservation measures implemented in Navigator-managed heritage areas such as Zambujo. This includes the conservation of  habitats, as well as their recovery, along with the implementation, monitoring of mammals and raising awareness of this species through awareness and communication.

The project “Zambujo reCover – Forest re-qualification and soil protection project” is aimed at implementing ecological renovation actions in a 153-hectare area through reforestation with native species to promote soil conservation and improvement of protected habitats.

The intervention takes place in Zambujo, a forest property located in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova, in the heart of the International Tagus Natural Park and the Special Protection Zone of the International Tagus, Erges and Pônsul, classified as Natura 2000 Network.

Promoted by The Navigator Company in partnership with RAIZ – Forest and Paper Research Institute, this initiative has an overall budget of € 225 774.79 and is financed by the COMPETE 2020 Program under the measure “Support for climate transition/Resilience of territories to risk: Combating desertification through reforestation and actions that promote the increase of carbon and nutrient fixation in the soil” (REACT-EU/ERDF).


  • Roe deer

    Capreolus capreolus

  • Family


  • Conservation status

    Least Concern (LC)

  • Habitat

    It occurs in varied woods and forests, Mediterranean shrublands with open areas, farmland and meadows.

  • Distribution

    In Portugal, it occurs essentially north and south of the Douro River (on the edge of forest areas in mountains and natural parks).

  • Height

    63-67 cm

  • Length

    95-135 cm

  • Weight

    15-35 kg

  • Longevity

    8-9 years