What do deer do in the rain?
Deer have partially water-resistant coats, so providing they shake-down on a fairly frequent basis, the cold rainwater shouldn’t come into contact with their warm skin and cause a chill
How they cope with rain
Wild deer are obviously out in the open air all of their lives, and in the climate that most deer live in, they will experience a considerable amount of precipitation (both rain and snow) over a twelve-month period. So, if they didn’t instinctively develop effective strategies to prevent themselves from getting cold, they would become more susceptible to developing ailments and they wouldn’t survive in the (often) harsh environments they make their home.
How the deer actually behave in the rain (or snow) depends on a couple of main variables: Previous weather conditions and the condition of their coat.
Previous weather conditions
If the weather has been generally fine and the deer are well fed, the immediate onset of a prolonged period of heavy will normally see the deer becoming less active and taking up positions to shelter themselves from full force driving rain.
Inside bushy/woody vegetation, the lee side of a hedge or a line of trees, are typical of the spots selected by deer to find some protection from the elements.By positioning themselves to be facing downwind, they prevent raindrops being blown directly into their eyes, so they can keep a careful watch over the area in front and to the side of them. Whilst at the same time, their ears and nose will monitor the area behind to detect any approaching dangers.
How long the deer lie down for essentially comes down to how wet they get and hungry they become.
Once the rain really sets in, the deer will be reluctant to move, but they will get up every now and then to prevent the rainwater penetrating right through their coat to the skin.
An individual deer is aware of how saturated their pelage is becoming and once the water content has reached a certain level, they will start to groom themselves, possibly drinking some of water in the process. But the main thing they do to rid themselves of the excess water is to shake-down.
Sometimes, to conserve energy, a deer will partially raise the front part of their body (from a lying down position), and shake their head. However, this only desaturates their head and the top part of the neck.
So, what they usually do is to stand up to shake themselves down, sending out a shower of water droplets, just like a dog does after it’s got wet.
After that, what the deer behaves depends on how hungry it is. Roe deer have a comparatively gut small capacity, and therefore need to eat frequently. So, there’s only so long an individual can stay hunkered down for before it needs to get up and start foraging again; larger deer are able to rest for longer than smaller ones.
If the individual deer is not particularly hungry after a shake-down, it will have a stretch, maybe take just a few bites to eat from the vegetation, and then lie down again—in the same spot as it was before it stood up.
At any time though, whether it’s before the rain or during the rain, a deer’s need to eat will take priority over the need to reduce their body’s exposure to the weather.
In the instances when the deer need to feed, even though it’s pouring down with rain, they will select those areas where they will not be subjected to the full force of the elements. Once sufficient sustenance has been ingested, they will seek a suitably sheltered lie to rest up in.
The condition of their coat
The deer are not going to be equally susceptible to inclement weather throughout the course of a year. Deer are most well protected from the chilling effects of the rain during the winter, when they’re wearing their thick winter coat.
The coat of a roe deer’s winter pelage can be around 30mm thick, from the skin surface to tip of the hairs. So, beads of water are less likely to come into contact the skin’s surface (and absorb valuable thermal energy from the roe’s body), compared to when they’re sporting their fine russet brown summer jacket, which is normally around 10mm thick.
Spring is when roe deer are most vulnerable to the chilling effects of rain. This is because March, April and mid-May are the months when the deer are moulting, meaning there will some days when individual animals will have patches of bare skin exposed directly to air.
So, any water landing on one of these areas of the body is going to have a significant cooling effect on the deer. (Their proportion of body fat is also at its lowest in the spring, making the deer even more sensitive to inclement weather.) Therefore, spring time is when roe are most likely to avoid being exposed to the full force of driving rain.
Once the rain eases off and stops, the deer are highly likely to get up and start moving around to feed. This is particularly so when a deer has been lying up in an area with overhead vegetation. It appears that the incessant drip drip drip from above causes them irritation, so they move out into an open space to escape the ‘rain’.