Friday, November 19, 2004
Biodiversity Corner White-tailed deer
When and where seen: White-tailed deer are commonly seen around town, and often in the Police Blotter. Lyn Pohl of Curve Street has been observing an eight-pronged white-tailed buck diligently working his way through the fall mating ritual. She saw him first on November 9 around 6:30 a.m. rubbing his antlers on one of their trees. Her photo on the left shows the marks left in the bark of the tree. He's been back a few times since then, and on November 14 he was with a doe. She was collared and he was licking her neck.
Fall behavior: Between September and October, in what is called the pre-rut stage, summer groups of white-tailed bucks break apart and the deer become increasingly antagonistic as their antlers begin to harden. During this time, bucks begin to make rubs, which is a way of marking territory and making their presence known to the other deer. These bucks scrape small trees with their antlers, knocking the bark off around two feet from the ground. Early rubs are about six inches long and a third of the way around the tree. Later rubs can be twice as big. Bucks deposit scent from enlarged glands on their foreheads as they rub the tree. They tend to rub aromatic trees such as cedar, pine, and cherry and rarely revisit a rub.
Before the rut begins, bucks create bare patches or depressions in the ground, known as scrapes. As the rut gets underway, more and more scrapes are made. Scrapes are usually one to four feet long and are made where there isn't much ground cover. The buck makes several lines or clusters of scrapes near his home turf, increasing the odds of does finding them. He also deposits scents and urine on these scrapes. Mating typically occurs in November in our area. After mating the doe returns to her maternal group. The buck looks for more does. The constitution of the family Cervidae says nothing about one buck one doe.
Antlers: Unlike true horns on animals like cattle, antlers are shed each year after the breeding season. A new set begins to grow around April. One of the reasons that shed antlers are seldom found is because rodents like mice, voles, and squirrels gnaw away on them to extract certain nutrients.
Population: In the early 1900s there were only about 1,000 white-tailed deer in Massachusetts and the first deer hunting statute was passed in 1910 to set limits on hunting. There are now estimated to be around 85,000 head of deer in the state. The growth in population in recent decades is attributable to reforestation and suburbanized landscapes which provide the ideal habitat of fragmented woodlands interspersed with open areas. Mass Audubon notes that "an added bonus is the tasty ornamental shrubbery thoughtfully provided by suburbanites." White-tailed deer population growth rates can exceed 30% annually. MassWildlife attempts to maintain deer densities between 10 and 30 per square mile by a system of regulated hunting in three distinct seasons. We are currently in the archery season which runs through November 20.
Less tasty shrubbery: UMass extension has a paper titled "Wildlife and the Landscape: White-tailed Deer" which outlines various methods of discouraging deer from eating your shrubbery. It says there are no "deer-proof" plants, as some of us already know, but it identifies the following as plants rarely damaged: Common Barberry, Paper Birch, American Holly, Colorado Spruce, and Japanese Pieris.
References: Donald and Lillian Stokes, Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior; Mass Audubon Society at www.massaudubon.org;
Mass Wildlife at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw;
UMass Extension, www.umassgreeninfo.org/fact_sheets/plant_culture/deer.pdf.
Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Send your ideas, your nature photos, or the whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA, 01741 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito