White-Tailed Deer

Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus

White-tailed deer are one of the most commonly seen wild animals in the US. They have been able to survive even though humans have taken over much of their land. Deer are part of the Cervidae family which also includes moose and elk.

Where do white-tailed deer live?

White-tails are found all over the U.S. except for the far Southwest. They live in wooded areas as well as farmlands.

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What do white-tailed deer look like?

Deer vary in size and females can weigh between 90-211 pounds, while males are between 150-310 pounds. Their average height is about 3 feet tall. In the summer, their fur is reddish brown or tan. They shed their summer coat and grow a winter coat which is grayish brown. Each individual hair is hollow. This is important because the hair acts as an insulator trapping the body heat that the deer generates. The hollow hair also makes it easier for deer to float. As their name suggests, white-tailed deer have a tail that is white on the under side and brown on top. Deer have large eyes and long ears.

What do young deer look like?

Young deer are known as fawns and they will often have spots on their fur that help them blend in with their surroundings. The male fawns, in their first year, only grow single spike antlers. By the time they are three they usually have about 8 points on their antlers.

Why do deer stick their tails straight up when they are running?

If a deer becomes startled it will run away and stick its white tail straight up. They do this to signal a warning of possible danger to other deer that may be near by. The white tail makes it easier for fawns to follow their mothers out of danger.

Did you know that only male deer have antlers?

Male deer or bucks have antlers which they shed each year. The antlers have one branched beam in front with several unbranched tines behind. At the beginning of every summer the new antlers grow and are covered in a thin layer of skin with fur or velvet attached. The velvet contains thin blood vessels which nourish the developing bony antlers. By late summer, when the antlers are fully grown, the velvet peels away and leaves the exposed bony antlers. The antlers are important for males because they help to attract mates and allow males to defend their territory from other males. Once the mating season is over, in late fall, the antlers shed off. The antlers that fall to the ground are quickly eaten by small animals craving calcium.

Do white-tailed deer live in big herds or by themselves?

Deers live in herds and there are two types of herds. The does (females) and the fawns herd together and then the bucks (males) form small herds of between 3-5. The buck herds are constantly changing because the deer form dominance heiarchies and the strongest male at the time becomes the head of the herd. The males are always fighting among thier herd to become the most powerful member. Usually the fawns stay with their mothers for the first year until her new offspring are born. The buck herds split up during the mating season when they go off to find females. In the winter deer will stay together and share the same well worn paths. Keeping together also protects them from the icy wind.

When are the fawns born?

In the North, deer mate in early November and the fawns are born in May. The mothers give birth to 1-3 fawns at once.

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Did you know that deer can run as fast as 36 miles per hour?

Deer rely on their speed to get them out of difficult or dangerous situations. They must be able to run quickly to flee from hungry predators like wolves, coyotes and humans. Deer are also incredible jumpers. They can jump as high as 8 1/2 feet and as far as 30 feet!

What do deer eat?

Deer like to eat a variety of different vegetation. In the summer they eat acorns, green plants, nuts, fruits, and aquatic plants. In the fall they switch to eating grasses and evergreen plants. During the winter they eat woody plants because that is all that is available. A varied diet is important for deer because it allows them to get the right nutrients at different times of the year. If winter lasts a long time than often starvation will kill the deer because of a lack of nutrient rich trees.

Did you know that white-tailed deer eat 5-9 pounds of food per day?

These deer have stomachs specially designed to digest plant matter. Plants contain a rough substance called celluose that most animals cannot digest. Their stomachs are divided into four sections and contain bacteria which break down the celluose found in plants. Deer eat quickly to avoid being found by predators. After they feed they go rest in a safe area where they digest their food. They actually regurgitate the food back into their mouths and then they chew it again to break it down even more!

What are some signs of deer activity?

Look out for torn vegetation that deer have been munching on. Deer do not have incisors (front teeth) therefore the vegetation looks ripped when they bite into it. Other signs of deer include trees with rub marks on them. The rub marks are formed when the bucks rub their antlers on the tree to mark their territory and rub the tree bark off. Deer droppings are quite a common sight along trails. The droppings are cylindrical shaped pellets that are about 3/4 inch long. Deer tracks are also easy to identify. The prints are about 2-3 inches long and they are shaped like broken hearts with small dew claw prints at the back of the print.

Take a quiet walk along a trail in the woods and look out for white-tailed deer browsing on their favorite bushes.

Sources

Patent, D.H. 1994. Deer and Elk. Clarion Books, New York.

Saintsing, D. 1988. The world of deer. Gareth Stevens Children’s Books, Milwaukee.

Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: a field guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfeifer- Hamilton, Duluth, MN.

Whitaker, J.O. 1996. National Audubon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

 

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