Keeping an ear to the ground

An acute sense of hearing is just as important for a deer as a good sense of smell.
An acute sense of hearing is just as important for a deer as a good sense of smell.

I often wax lyrical about the heightened senses possessed by animals.

Scent is the obvious example, but as this female roe deer demonstrates, hearing is just as important. She had been lying in a sheltered sun spot in one of the many woodlands my work takes me to.

Contentedly chewing the cud alongside her similarly engaged male kid of last year, she took very little notice as I passed downwind as slowly and quietly as ever.

This may or may not be why the yearling slowly stood, stretched, and wandered off into the wood.

Without taking her eye off me, the couched doe followed her son’s progress by rotating a single ear towards him as shown here. Her other ear was kept turned towards me.

We can only imagine what it must be like to be able to listen in two different directions at once, while monitoring the area upwind by nose, leaving our eyes to check any remaining areas!

Another thing you soon learn about the hearing of roe deer is the way they become experts in our own routines.

They know the usual sounds and directions of all the local houses and barking dogs. They know when so-and-so takes his usual walk through the woods and when such-and-such starts their car each day.

All this local knowledge, monitored continuously, gives them the ability to identify instantly any strange sound or scent, putting them on high alert. You might expect this to lead to wholesale panic, but roe are much more capable than that.

Rotating ears, twitching nose and sharp eyes tell them not only where danger lies but also which is the safest, most secretive route to silently slip away. So, next time you follow the path through your local wood, be aware your progress is being monitored by a single, slowly rotating ear!

By George Hogg, Hogg Estate Services, Wildlife Management