Virginia deer, Whitetail
The White-tailed deer, also called the Virginia deer or whitetail, is named for the white underside of its tail which is visible when it holds its tail erect when it runs. Adults have a bright reddish brown coat in the summer and in the winter it is a duller grayish brown. The young have white spots on their reddish coats.
White-tailed deer occur in most of southern Canada and all of the United States mainland except for a couple of western states. Their range covers entire Mexico and Central America reaching to South America as far south as Peru and Bolivia. They live in a range of habitats, from big woods in northern Maine to Florida's hammock swamps and deep saw grass. They also occupy farmland, brushy areas and some desolate areas in the west like the thornbrush and cactus deserts of Mexico and southern Texas.
Habits and lifestyle
White-tailed deer are usually considered solitary, particularly in summer. Their basic social unit is mother and fawns, although sometimes does graze together in herds that can number hundreds of individuals. Bucks and does remain separate from each other except during the mating season. Bucks usually live alone or within small groups alongside other bucks. Deer living in deserts often migrate from summertime elevations down to warmer areas where there is more food available. These deer are crepuscular, and mainly feed starting before dawn until a few hours after the sun has risen, and again in the late afternoon until dusk. White-tailed deer use a number of forms of communication, such as sound, odor, body language, and marking with scratches. When alarmed, a White-tailed deer will raise its tail to warn other deer.
herd, mob, gang
Diet and nutrition
Whitetails are browsers and feed on twigs, bark, leaves, shrubs, the nuts and fruits of most vegetation, lichens and other fungi. Plants such as yucca, huajillo brush, prickly pear cactus, ratama, comal, and a range of tough shrubs can be the mainstay of a whitetail's diet if it lives in a desert area.
Whitetails are polygynous, and bucks fight fiercely during the mating season, with winners able to mate with does in the area. The season runs from October to December. The gestation period is about 6 months. A female usually gives birth to one fawn in her initial year of breeding but 2 are born subsequently. Fawns can walk as soon as they are born and only a few days later are able to nibble on vegetation. When seeking food, mothers leave their offspring hidden amongst vegetation. A fawn starts to follow its mother as she goes off to forage when it is about 4 weeks old. At 8 - 10 months old they are weaned. At one year old, young males leave their mothers but young females will often stay with them for two years. Most of them (particularly males) will breed in their second year.
Being commonly hunted for sport and meat, and in Texas being the primary big game animals, White-tailed deer populations are threatened by overhunting. To the south from the US border deer face this same threat, along with habitat loss. Poaching is another cause of extinction of local populations.
The United States White-tailed deer population is estimated to be over 11,000,000 individuals, of which a third will be in the State of Texas. The estimated population in Canada is a half a million individuals. Overall, whitetails’ numbers are stable currently and they are classified as least concern (LC) on the list of Threatened species, but in Mexico, Central America and South America most of the populations are declining.
White-tailed deer can have a great influence on plant communities as a result of their grazing, particularly where they are abundant. The deer are also an important prey animal for many large predators.
Fun facts for kids
- When White-tailed deer gather together and trample down snow in a particular area, this is called a "deer yard."
- White-tailed deer can jump vertically more than 2.5 m and horizontally 9 m, which is almost the length of a school bus.
- White-tailed deer swim well and can escape from predators through large streams and lakes.
- Only the males grow antlers, and they shed them each year.
- White-tailed deer are the shyest and most nervous of deer. When they are startled and run away, their tails wave from side to side.
- Deer can smell human odor on underbrush for days afterwards. Bucks will stay away from areas that have been visited by humans for weeks afterwards.
- Bucks usually lie on their right side when they go to sleep, and they face downwind, enabling them to employ their nose, ears and eyes to detect danger in any direction.