Posts Tagged ‘White-tailed Deer’

Whitetails in a Tizzy

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Monday, November 26th, 2012
White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer © Lisa Densmore

Whitetails in a Tizzy by Lisa Densmore

Location: Red Lodge, MT

There are a lot of nervous White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in my neighborhood at the moment. It’s the same expanding population of deer that always grazes on my lawn, trims my aspen trees and gorges on my lilacs, but now they’re in a tizzy. With the rut only a week or so away, the chests of the bucks are puffed out, and they’re trying feverishly to herd the does into harems. The annoyed does tend to comply rather than receive an antler in the behind. The bucks and does are so distracted by each other, they seem oblivious to a passerby such as me, whereas a week ago they would have put up their trademark white tails and bounded away.

Several evenings ago just after clock moved an hour earlier, I inadvertently took my late afternoon jog during the early evening. As I rounded the last corner on my street, I pondered whether to pick up my pace for the home stretch. Good thing I didn’t simply break into a sprint. Two deer would have run me over in their hell bent charge across the road. I always watch diligently for deer while driving my car, particularly at dusk and after dark when deer are most active, but it never occurred to me that a deer might run me over.

The next evening, I wanted to take a walk to help ease that over-stuffed feeling after a particularly hearty dinner. My sweetheart insisted he come with me. He was worried about the whitetails. Deer are herbivores. They graze on grass, grains and alfalfa; browse leaves, twigs and berries; and nibble nuts and lichens. What danger could a white-tailed deer pose a human?

“A buck in the rut wouldn’t think twice about butting you with an antler if you happened onto his turf,” he explained, “People have been killed by ornery deer.”

Onery? I think he meant horny.

Deer Browsing versus Grazing: What’s the Difference?

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Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Deer Browsing versus Grazing: What’s the Difference?

 

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer © Dominic Ballard

There’s plenty of green grass on my lawn and still lots of greenery in the irrigated hayfields at the edge of town. Nonetheless, deer are invading my neighborhood, chewing up flowers, nibbling new growth from roses and other ornamental shrubs, and gobbling leaves from nearly any variety of deciduous trees they can get their incisors around. All across the Rocky Mountain States, this is about the time that mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, pronghorn and even moose sneak in to grab their snacks at the expense of suburban landscaping.

While all these species might find a meal in a yard at the edge of town, their preferences in forage are quite different. Biologists often categorize ungulates on a continuum between browsers and grazers. Browsers consume their plant matter in the form of leaves, bark and twigs from a variety of trees and shrubs. Moose are browsers, although they do eat some aquatic plants as well. Grazers are grass-eaters. Bison are a prime example of a grazing animal. Other ungulates may browse and graze. In North America, elk are the most versatile of our native ungulates, capable or either grazing or browsing. Mule and whitetail deer tend primarily toward browsing, but will also graze on succulent, broad-leafed plants, especially in the spring and early summer.

To a large extent, an ungulate’s range and habitat is tied to its eating habits. The eclectic elk can forage in a wide range of habitats, from grassy prairies to boreal forests. Bison are most naturally animals of the grasslands, but they can survive in mountainous areas, so long as there’s sufficient grass to graze. The selective eating habits of moose limit their distribution to areas that have abundant trees to browse. As they don’t graze, you’ll never spot a moose at home on the prairie.

Deer and the occasional moose frequent my neighborhood. Based on their eating habits, I don’t need to worry too much about my lawn. But if I don’t protect the shrubs, these browsers will prune them to smithereens.

A Tailless White-tailed Deer

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Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

A Tailless White-tailed Deer by Jack Ballard

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer © Jack Ballard

Near the edge of town during mid-summer, just at twilight, I spied two whitetail bucks feeding in a meadow. Intrigued by their large, fuzzy antlers, I pulled over at the side of the road to give my son in the back seat a better look. On closer examination, we noticed something very strange about one of the deer. He had no tail.

Yesterday morning, while puttering about trying take photos of a jackrabbit, I noticed a buck deer bounding pell-mell in my direction. It was a sight I’ve seen a thousand times, but something didn’t seem right. Viewing the photos on my computer later in the day, I recognized the tailless whitetail. It was the same buck, absent the trademark white flag normally carried upright on the rump of a deer when running.

Initially amused, I soon found myself zooming in on the image of the unfortunate creature to examine its missing appendage. Within the tail of a white-tailed deer is a series of thin bones, much smaller but similar to those in the spine. This buck wasn’t simply missing the hair on its tail. Its tail was completely gone, severed from its body precisely at the base as if it had been surgically removed by a mentally unstable veterinarian.

And so I pose some obvious questions. Has anyone else seen a deer without a tail? Does anyone know how a whitetail might lose its tail? Maybe all those kids trying to pin the tail on the poor donkey could help out this buck. Perhaps not, as I think they’d have a hard time catching him.

Two and a Half Shaqs

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Monday, May 7th, 2012
White Pelicans Birds

White Pelicans by Jungle Pete

What do James Joule, Daniel Fahrenheit, Charles Richter, Heinrich Hertz, Isaac Newton, Georg Ohm, James Watt, Allessandro Volta and Shaquille O’Neal have in common? They all have units of measure named after them.

When the largest Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) ever found in the Everglades was discovered, the Washington Post described the 17 1/2 foot exotic beast as “more than twice as long as former basketball player Shaquille O’Neal is tall.” Technically Shaq stands 7” 1’ – so really the snake would be 2.5 “Shaqs” long. Naturally I pictured an engorged constrictor with two and half of the fifteen time, NBA All-Star in its belly. Eating a 325 pound Shaq might be a stretch, although another Python was captured recently that had consumed a 76 pound White-tailed Deer.

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) stands an impressive .60 Shaqs (5 feet) tall but more incredibly has a 1.25 Shaq (9 foot) wingspan. That’s the second largest wingspan of any bird in North America. Only the 1.4 Shaq (10 foot) California Condor has a greater wingspan.

Most of the White Pelicans are heading out of Florida. They’ve spent the last few months feeding along the coast in a manner entirely different than their Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) cousins who dive for their food. White Pelicans work in groups on the surface of the water and round up fish in the shallows. When the fish are trapped, they dunk their bills into the water and scoop up their prey.

Brown Pelican Birds

Brown Pelican adult, breeding, Eastern © Arthur Morris/VIREO

As we progress through spring, developing thermal updrafts allow for the pelicans to migrate en masse to their breeding grounds in the mid-western United States and central portions of Canada. Their massive wingspan allows them to rise quickly in the thermal column and soar for long distances at high altitudes. Flocks of hundreds can be spotted travelling together at this time of the year

Who’s to say if this unit of measure will stick? Consider the measure of a man is not by his free throw percentage but how he stacks up next to enormous snakes and gigantic birds.

The Comfort Zone

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Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

White-tailed Deer by Jack Ballard

The question comes from the back seat of the car, not a critical inquiry about my driving, but a query about a half-dozen white-tailed deer.

“Why are those deer all lying on that hump?”

I swivel my eyes to the side of the street and sure enough, a modest bevy of does and fawns are bedded on a mound of grass, a barren and windswept island in a sea of snow.

“They’re just trying to get comfortable.”

“It looks too cold out there to be comfortable.”

It is cold. But “comfort” is a relative word and animals seek it as much as humans. Compared to lying in the snow, the deer have found a fairly dry spot to nap that also absorbs solar radiation better than the white stuff. In fact, thinking about an animal’s comfort is often a good way to find them. On windy days, you’ll discover most mammals on the leeward side of slopes where they’re buffered from the breeze. Birds tend toward perching places in sheltered areas as well. When it’s really cold, animals prefer south-facing slopes that maximize their exposure to the sun. In a summer scorcher, they’re just like us, looking for a shady spot to nap.

White-tailed Deer © Mishakoe

As we motor by the napping whitetails, I can’t help but nudge the heat a bit higher in the car. There is one important difference between the comfort-seeking behavior of humans and whitetails: we can adjust the temperature, they can only adapt.

Animal Acclimatization

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Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

An early storm hammered the east front of the Beartooth Mountains a couple of days ago. After a persistent Indian summer, when temperatures remained unseasonably warm, the thermometer plummeted to the single digits within 24 hours.

For humans living in the northern Rocky Mountains, such frigid temperatures aren’t terribly unusual during the winter. People go about their business, shopping, working and exercising outdoors, even when daytime temperatures never scratch a dozen ticks above zero. However, there’s a definite period of acclimatization. When the temperature plummeted a few days ago, it seemed bitterly cold and miserable. Now it seems more normal and not nearly so uncomfortable. My body has simply adjusted to the new reality.

Out on the fields and golf course near my residence, I often observe whitetail deer going about their business as I attend to mine. Currently, these animals are at their peak condition for the year with healthy coats, robust fat reserves and relatively plenty to eat. However, the day after the storm hit, when temperatures dipped into the single digits, I observed these deer pawing for forage, backs humped, necks bent, creatures clearly suffering from the cold, a perfect picture of misery. The whitetails, it appeared, had similar perceptions to my feelings as I braved the cold in the dash from my front doorway to the car.

Yesterday, though, while out cross-country skiing, I noticed the same bunch of deer, placidly feeding and fawns frolicking in the snow though the temperatures have now dropped below zero. Like the skier watching them, the whitetails appeared much better adjusted to the new conditions. Animals, it seems, like humans, need some time to acclimate to winter.