Country messages sent by scent

A buck sniffs the branches of an elder shrub
A buck sniffs the branches of an elder shrub

Modern humans have little perception of the importance of scent to other species.

Working dogs as part of my daily jobs give me regular insights to just how remarkable their sense of smell is .

In the case of roe deer, living singly or in very small groups in dense woodland, scent marking allows them to leave messages for one another.

They do this mainly by rubbing their facial scent glands on prominent branches where other passing deer will be able to ‘read’ them.

Obviously this elder shrub in front of one of my cameras has been so marked. During the latest examination of the memory card, which contained a month’s worth of pictures, every deer which appeared in the frame, immediately sniffed the branches at exactly the same point .

This buck demonstrates the habit as well as illustrating well the way roebuck crowns are protected by a ‘velvet’ covering while growing during winter.

In one or two instances bucks appeared to be adding their own scent by facial rubbing against the bark.

At other times of the year bucks mark trees in another way, by antler rubbing.

They do this in spring to help remove the drying velvet from their new antlers and continue throughout summer, using their now hard antlers to scrape bark, leaving visual and scent signs to be read by others.

Last summer I had to move a camera for this reason,as a buck had established a ‘fraying stock’ on the sapling to which the camera was attatched.

There was a good chance of the camera being damaged and the buck was so close his portraits were hopelessly overexposed and out of focus.

It is said this scent has an apple smell. I must have a sniff at the branch next time I visit the camera!

By George Hogg

Hogg Estate Services, Wildlife Management