WHITE-TAILED DEER – Odocoileus virginianus


White-tailed deer facts: This is a small deer species, weighing 110 to 300 pounds (50 to 136 kilograms) and measuring 67 to 77 inches (170 to 195 centimeters) long. Summer coat is a foxy-red color. Coat changes to grayish brown in fall, and hairs grow thicker and longer. The underpart of the tail is white, as is the throat, nose, stomach, and area surrounding the eyes. Only males have antlers, but both sexes have scent glands on all four hooves. Although their eyesight and hearing are well developed, they rely on sense of smell to detect danger.

Geographic range: This deer is found in southern Canada and all of the United States except for Hawaii, Alaska, and the southwest. Also lives throughout Central America to Bolivia.

White-tailed deer habitat: Although they have adapted to live in a variety of habitats ranging from swamps and farmland to forest, white-tailed deer prefer to live in areas with dense thickets (growths of bushes) and clear edges (for food).

What does white-tailed deer eat: Almost 70 percent of this deer’s diet consists of tree and shrub leaves and twigs. Adults need 5 to 11 pounds (2.5 to 5 kilograms) of food daily. In winter, stored body fat allows them to subsist on 2 pounds (1 kilogram) daily. Though watering places are often at the center of home ranges, this animal can go without water if succulent (water-based) plants are available.

Behavior and reproduction: When sensing danger, this deer will stomp its hooves, snort, and point its tail up to alert other deer. Able to run at speeds of up to thirty miles per hour, these deer are also able jumpers and swimmers. Home ranges are usually less than one square mile (2.59 square kilometers). Females live alone unless they are mothers, and bucks live in small herds of three or four individuals except during mating season.

White-tailed deer are polygynous and begin breeding in late September into December. Pregnancy lasts 188 to 222 days and usually results in the birth of twins. Within hours, they nurse and walk around following the mother, though they prefer to hide until around ten days, when they begin eating on their own. They nurse until eight to ten weeks of age. Usual rate of first breeding is two years for both sexes. Mortality rate among white-tailed deer is high, around 30 to 50 percent. Most live to be two or three years old. Predators include bears, mountain lions, wolves, jaguars, and coyotes.

White-tailed deer and people: This species is the most numerous of big game animals in the world. Hunters kill about three million each year, and still the population thrives. White-tailed deer carry Lyme disease, which has become more prevalent among humans, especially in the northeastern states. Some people consider this deer a pest because it gets into yards and eats shrubs, flowers, and other ornamental vegetation.

Conservation status: White-tailed deer are not threatened.