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White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus

White-tailed deer are often seen along the edges of forests and farms. (Jane Hawkey/IAN Image Library)
White-tailed deer are often seen along the edges of forests and farms. (Jane Hawkey/IAN Image Library)

The white-tailed deer is a brownish, medium-sized deer that is found in forests, farms, parks and backyards throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Reddish-brown coat that turns grayish-brown in the winter
  • Large tail that is white underneath
  • Young (called fawns) have a reddish coat with white spots on the back
  • Males (called bucks) have antlers that they shed in late winter and grow out in spring
  • Males grow to 5 feet long and 3.5 feet tall at the shoulders, and can weigh 50-300 pounds. Females (called does) are about one-third smaller.

Habitat:

  • Found in forests, farms, parks, backyards, open areas of brush and the edges of wetlands
  • Often migrates to swamps in the winter
  • Usually quiet and solitary, although females live with their young

Range:

  • Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • Usually remains within a home range of about 250 acres

Feeding:

  • Eats fruits and vegetation that are available to them each season
  • In spring and summer, feeds on green plants such as leaves and aquatic vegetation, and fruit such as apples and berries
  • In autumn, feeds on nuts, acorns and crops such as corn and soybeans
  • In winter, feeds on woody vegetation such as bark, twigs and buds of hardwood and pine trees

Predators:

  • Humans are the white-tailed deer’s only major predator
  • Bobcats, wolves and coyotes used to be major predators but populations of these carnivores have fallen significantly

Voice:

  • Makes a loud, whistling snort when alarmed
  • Injured deer may make a loud blatt

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Mates during rutting season, which extends from late September-February with a peak in November
  • Most deer begin mating around 18 months old, although some females mate as young as 7 months old
  • Bucks fight each other by clashing antlers to determine who can mate with a particular female
  • Does give birth after about 6.5 months (between May-June). They usually have only one fawn the first year, but may have twins or triplets in following years if food is plentiful.
  • Fawns can walk at birth
  • Fawns are weaned at 8-10 weeks old but begin to graze before this time. They stay close to their mother while foraging, except when she is out in the open, when fawns will hide by lying very still on the forest floor.
  • Male fawns may stay with their mother for one year, while females fawns stay for two years
  • Bucks begin growing their first rack of antlers in the spring following their birth
  • Can live to 16 years in the wild, but usually only lives about 2-3 years and rarely past 10 years

Other Facts:

  • Also known as the Virginia deer
  • Gets its name from the white underside of its tail, which it will raise like a flag when alarmed
  • Remarkably good swimmers and agile runners that are capable of reaching speeds of 35 miles per hour and jumping 30 feet horizontally and 8.5 feet vertically
  • Have become overabundant in some areas because of their lack of predators, flexible feeding habits and ability to adapt to areas settled by humans
  • Bucks begin to shed the skin (called velvet) on their antlers in autumn due to lessening light, which causes bucks to produce more testosterone. In spring, increasing light triggers bucks to begin growing new antler buds, which push out old antlers just like adult teeth push out baby teeth in humans.

Sources and Additional Information:

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