Thursday, May 30, 2024

White-tailed deer

by Christian Ryan
| May 19, 2020 1:00 AM

I don’t know about you, but after so many false starts, I am glad that North Idaho is finally experiencing classic spring weather. So is the animal kingdom!

Animals eagerly await the arrival of spring because it allows them the chance to stock up on calories lost during the winter months when food was harder to find. For most Idahoan species, it is the best time of year to begin having offspring. Chirping chicks fill the nests of mother birds, and little tadpoles wriggle about in shallow ponds. If you’re trekking through the forest this time of year, you may happen upon one of spring’s most welcome arrivals hidden in the vegetation: offspring of the white-tailed deer.

Despite weighing between 110 and 330 pounds, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is actually North America’s smallest deer species, outsized by the moose, elk, caribou, and even the mule deer. They are also America’s most common and widespread deer, found throughout central Canada, all but the southwest of the lower 48 and even past Mexico down into Central and South America. But white-tailed deer were not always so common.

By the 1930s, their numbers had been reduced to only 300,000 animals, primarily by overhunting. Thankfully, the releasing of captive deer into the wild and restoration of their natural habitat saw their population skyrocket to over 29 million animals today.

After conception occurs in late fall or early winter, a white-tailed deer’s life begins after a 6.5-month pregnancy. Baby deer are called fawns, and they usually come in litters of one to three. When they are born, fawns are mostly reddish brown in color with white spots dappled across their coats. They are extremely well developed, so much so that they can stand within just 10 minutes of being born, and walk in another seven hours!

Despite this, the mother deer won’t allow her young one to join her on her daily exploits for some time. She leaves the fawn hidden in the vegetation of the forest floor for about four hours every day to forage. The fawn’s spots help to break up its outline and keep it out of the wary sights of coyotes, wolves, bears, foxes, cougars, birds of prey and other potential predators.

The fawn begins to follow its mother throughout the day when it reaches the age of about one month, when it is ready to learn about the world of the white-tailed deer. These creatures are very adaptable and can happily live anywhere from scrublands and deserts to swamps. In Idaho, they are typically found in wooded environments. Here, they find all sorts of grass, leaves, fruit, nuts, fungi, lichen and other munchies to grub up. Finding food becomes very important when the fawns turn six months in age, as this is when they are fully weaned.

The fawns change substantially as they grow up, losing their spots and their fur turns brown or tan. Male deer develop branching antlers that they will use to fight off predators and earn the right to mate and have children of their own. Alas, these are the signs that it is time for a mother deer and her offspring to part ways after one or two years together so she can have more fawns.

It is time for her young ones to face the world of white-tailed deer on their own.

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