Hitching a lift
Magpies perch on the haunches of a roe deer, which has paused to look at the photographer while strolling through a Sussex hay meadow awash with buttercups and wild grasses. It’s a poignant scene reminiscent of oxpeckers riding piggyback on zebras and antelopes in the African savannah – poignant because Britain has long since lost virtually all of its wild megafauna.
Much like oxpeckers, these piebald corvids perform a useful service for the deer, by removing troublesome ticks. Unlike them, however, there is no evidence to show that magpies also take advantage of their host by opening wounds to sip blood.
Ageing roes on sight can be tricky, but deer expert Alastair Ward of the University of Hull reckons this one’s a beauty. Well-developed tines (points) on each antler, together with well-formed but not thick coronets (antler bases), a clean coat and the animal’s stocky body condition, all indicate that he is in his prime, Alastair says. “My guess would be somewhere between three and six years old.” July is the main breeding season for roe deer, when mature males defend territories that overlap with those of several females. Since a female’s fertilised egg does not implant until midwinter, the young will not be born until spring. GET INVOLVED Use the free Mammal Tracker app: www.brc.ac.uk/mammal_tracker