My Bantam Lake

White-Tailed Deer

Written on 06/27/2018

Odocoileus virginianus

Whitetail deer are able to survive in a variety of terrestrial habitats, from the big woods of northern Maine to the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida. Ideal whitetail deer habitat would contain dense thickets (in which to hide and move about) and edges (which furnish food). Odocoileus virginianus dorsal coloration differs in shading locally, seasonally, and among subspecies; however in general it is grayer in the winter and redder in the summer. White fur is located in a band behind the nose, in circles around the eyes, inside the ears, over the chin and throat, on the upper insides of the legs and beneath the tail. Whitetail deer have scent glands between the two parts of the hoof on all four feet, metatarsal glands on the outside of each hind leg, and a larger tarsal gland on the inside of each hind leg at the hock. Scent from these glands is used for intraspecies communication and secretions become especially strong during the rutting season. Most whitetail deer (particularly males) mate in their second year, although some females occasionally mate as young as seven months. Bucks are polygamous although they may form an attachment and stay with a single doe for several days or even weeks until she reaches oestrus. Does are seasonally polyestrous and usually come into heat in November for a short twenty-four hour period. If a doe is not mated, a second estrus occurs approximately 28 days later. White-tailed females are very protective of their babies. When looking for food, females leave their offspring in a hiding place for about four hours at a time. While waiting for their mother to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns begin to follow their mother on her foraging trips once they are about 4 weeks old and are fully ruminant at two months old. Whitetail deer are the most nervous and shy of our deer. They wave their tails characteristically from side to side when they are startled and fleeing. They are extremely agile and may bound at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour through tangled terrain in a forest. Whitetail deer are also good swimmers and often enter large streams and lakes to escape predators or insects or to visit islands. Their home ranges are generally small, often a square kilometer or less. Whitetail deer are generally considered solitary, especially in summer. The basic social unit is a female and her fawns, although does have been observed to graze together in herds of up to hundreds of individuals. Females generally follow their mothers for about two years, but males leave the group within the first year. Whitetail deer feed on a variety of vegetation, depending on what is available in their habitat. In eastern forests, buds and twigs of maple, sassafras, poplar, aspen and birch (to name a few) are consumed, as well as many shrubs.


Source: Odocoileus virginianus White-tailed Deer, Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology