White-tailed Deer

March 21, 2009 at 6:33 am

White-tailed Deer Photos by Ruth JohnsonCommon Name: White-tailed Deer
Latin Name: Odocoileus virginianus

Size: Length 4-7 feet; Tail 6-12 inches; Height 3-4 feet
Weight:  Males 100-300 lbs, Females 75-200 lbs

Habitat: can be found just about anywhere, from deep woods, to farm fields, to residential backyards

Eats:  grass and other green plants including soybeans, alfalfa and your backyard hostas and daylilies, they will also eat acorns and nuts in summer and twigs, buds, birdseed and shelled corn in the winter
Is Eaten by: humans; injured or sick deer and fawns may be killed by coyotes or bears

Cool Facts:

  • Newborn fawns have virtually no scent and will lay still all day while their mother is away feeding. Their perfectly camouflaged coloration helps to hide them from predators.
  • Deer have a digestive system very similar to a cow (more than one stomach). This allows them to eat large amounts of food at dusk and dawn and then quickly go back to their “safe” cover areas. During their resting periods during the day or at night, they can “regurgitate” small amounts of the food they consumed earlier and rechew it (like a cow “chewing its cud”).
  • Deer have a thick winter coat which is a grayish-brown. Their winter coat is shed in the spring and replaced by a thinner reddish-brown summer coat.
  • The underside of a deer’s tail is white and when they’re threatened you’ll see them running away with their tail straight up and the white fur flared out.
  • Deer can run up to 37 miles per hour and have the ability to leap over an obstacle (like a fence) up to 8½ feet high. They’re also excellent swimmers.
  • Does and fawns will stay together for most of the year and in separate groups from the bucks.
  • Deer make lots of different noises including snorts, wheezes, grunts, coughs, and bleats. A baby deer looking for its mom sounds a lot like a baby lamb.
  • If food supplies are readily available to keep the deer healthy, does will usually have twin fawns and sometimes even have triplets.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Deer usually follow the same trails and these can be found in the woods most readily by finding deer “poop” which looks a lot like a pile of “Raisinets.”
  • In the fall, look for small trees that have been “rubbed” by the bucks. These will be easy to spot because all the bark will be rubbed off about 2-3 feet up on the trunk of a tree.
  • A deer “bedding area” can sometimes be found in sheltered spots (under cedar trees or a similar protected area). You will usually find the grass matted down in a large oval shape where the deer have laid down.
  • During the rut (breeding) season in the fall, a “scrape” can also be discovered at the edge of a wooded area. Look for a 1-2 square foot area on the ground where all the vegetation has been scraped away, then look above that scrape (about eye level for an adult) for a spot where the tips have been broken off an overhanging branch. The buck scent marks this spot (with urine) and also scent marks the branches with his orbital glands. If a doe passes through the area, she also scent marks this area to let the buck know she’s receptive for breeding.
  • Deer hoof prints vary in size from just a little over an inch for a fawn to 3 inches for a large doe or buck.

Photo Credits:  (all photos by Ruth Johnson)

(1) Doe and Newborn fawn
(2) Fawn hiding in roadside ditch
(3) Mom and fawn in fall woods (already wearing their dark winter coat)
(4) Triplets!
(5) A pretty doe (wearing her summer coat)
(6) A small 8-point buck
(7) A “monster buck” (trail camera pic)
(8) A small deer hoof print (with my fingers for size comparison)
(9) Deer bedding area in winter

Learn More:

  • The White-Tailed Deer – Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources
  • White-tailed Deer – New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Whitetail Deer Antlers – PA Bucks.com
  • Antlers – Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
  • Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
  • A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior by Don and Lillian Stokes

Posted by: Ruth Johnson

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