Critter Corner - White-Tailed Deer
(Odocoileus virginianus)

DID YOU KNOW:

White-tailed deer are named for the white fur on the underside of the tail.  The deer raises its tail straight up when it senses danger.  As the deer runs to escape it wags its tail from side to side to show this white flag to alert other deer of a potential threat.  Male deer are called bucks; females are called does; babies are called fawns; and young deer are called yearlings.

EATING HABITS:

Deer are all herbivores (plant eaters).  Food includes leaves, twigs, grasses and farm crops.  Fruits and mushrooms are favorite foods.  Winter acorns, hickory nuts and corn left on the ground after harvest become essential food for winter survival.

 

 

THE YOUNG:

November is peak deer mating time.  The dominant bucks compete for territory and females that are ready to breed.  The bucks fight fiercely with their antlers. 

In late May or June, mom deer gives birth -- often to twins.  The spotted, well camouflaged babies remain hidden with mom on guard nearby.  Mom licks the fawns to clean them.  She nurses them for six weeks or so, but the fawns begin following mom and nibbling green vegetation when they are about six weeks old.

 

 

HABITAT (HOME):

Deer live through much of North America.  They prefer forested areas bordered by open fields.  As common as deer are today, it is hard to believe that deer were once gone from most of Missouri.  Thanks to good conservation measures, deer are now abundant.

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

Deer first try to remain hidden.  Their grayish fur blends in well in the forest shadows.  If threatened, deer run fast to escape, zigzagging to throw off the predator.  If forced to fight, deer kick out with powerful legs and sharp hooves that can kill an attacking coyote.  A mother deer will fight fiercely to defend her helpless fawns.

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • Deer use a complex series of scents to identify each other.  Scents are produced by glands on different parts of their bodies.

  • Buck shed their antlers each January.  Squirrels, rabbits and other animals chew on these shed antlers for calcium and other minerals.

 

To learn more about white-tail deer

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(Photo credits: Buck, US Fish & Wildlife Service; Doe browsing by lake, Laurie Brown; Fawn, Laurie Brown; Antler, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife)