White-tailed Deer in North America

Whitetail prefer broad-leaved and coniferous forests for both food and cover. Deer generally prefer open woodlands, but are often found on the fringes of suburban and agricultural areas. White-tailed are selective foragers, utilizing only the most palatable and nutrient-rich foods when possible. Contrary to what many believe, a deer's diet consist of very little grass, usually comprising less than 10 percent of an individual's diet. White-tail deer feed on a variety of plants, depending on what is available in their habitat. They are browsers feeding on twigs, leaves, bark, shrubs, the fruits and nuts of most vegetation, as well as lichens and other fungi.

In addition to be seletive foragers, deer are extremely cautious animals with keen senses of smell and hearing. White-tailed deer can run as fast as 40 miles per hour and are good swimmers, too. The basic social unit is a female and her fawns, although does have been observed to feed together in herds of up to hundreds of individuals. Except for the mating season, commonly referred to as the rut, bucks and does remain apart. Bucks generally live alone or in small bachelor groups with other bucks, while does live alone or with their fawns and female yearlings.

The name "white-tailed deer" refers to the white underside of the tail, which is turned vertically like a flag when the animal is alarmed or running. The adult deer has a bright, reddish brown summer coat and a duller grayish brown winter coat. 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. The young, called fawns, have reddish coats with white spots. Males are called bucks, females are called does.

The life span of the whitetail in the wild is 10 years, but white-tailed deer can live up to 20 years in captivity. Adult deer have few predators except for humans, mountain lions, coyotes and wolves, where they still exist. Coyote populations can have a detrimental affect on deer populations under certain conditions. Coyote predation on fawns can be considerable, accounting for as much as 40-50% of fawn mortality in some areas.

White-tailed Deer History

State and federal wildlife departments consider whitetail deer as a renewable, harvestable natural resource. Hunters across North America take about 2 million white-tailed deer each year. It was estimated that between 23 and 40 million whitetail resided in North America before the arrival of Europeans. However, the population dwindled in the U.S. at one point due to deer habitat loss and unregulated hunting.

By the mid-20th century, however, regulated deer hunting throughout the whitetail's range restored the deer population. Today, an estimated 16 to 20 million deer are found in the United States. In many areas, deer populations have exceded the carrying capacity of the habitat, causing detrimental affects on native vegetation and creating agricultural and suburban issues.

It seems that an increase in food supplies has been coupled with a decline in the natural predator populations. The ability of whitetail to adapt behaviorly and survive in a variety of habitats has aided the population expansion. In addition, state hunting regulations and the promotion of deer management programs has worked well, maybe too well. Once only found free-ranging, many states now allow private individuals to operate commercial white-tailed deer breeding operations. Whitetail were once on the brink of extinction, now it is not uncommon to find ads offering deer for sale in a hunting magazine or the newspaper.


White-tailed Deer Breeding

White-tailed deer breed during the fall of each year. The whitetail deer breeding season is a special time of the year that is commonly referred to as the "rut" by hunters. Whitetail does are seasonally polyoestrous and usually come into heat for a short twenty-four hour period. If a doe is not mated (bred), a second estrus occurs about 28 days later. Bucks are polygamous and research has found... Read more

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