White-Tailed Deer

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name

Odocoileus virginianus

Species Survival Plan

No

Habitat

Open woodlands, fringes of urban areas and farming country, desert within 10 miles of water

Predators

Mountain lion, wolf, coyote and man

Food

Twigs, buds, leaves, forbs, acorns, fruit and agricultural crops such as corn and soybeans

Originally Native To

Southern Canada and throughout the U.S.

Height

36 - 42 inches at shoulders

Weight

50 - 250 lb.

Characteristics

Males have antlers

Gestation Period

202 days

Offspring

1 - 3 fawns

Birth Season

April - June

Lifespan

Wild 10 years
Captivity 20 years

Social Behavior

Doe and fawns generally graze together in large herds; bucks live alone or in small bachelor herds

iucn_badge_least_concern

About White-Tailed Deer

“White-tailed deer” refers to the white underside of the tail, which is held conspicuously erect like a flag when the animal is alarmed or running.

The smallest members of the North American deer family, white-tailed deer are found from southern Canada to South America. In the heat of summer, they typically inhabit fields and meadows using clumps of broad-leaved and coniferous forests for shade. During the winter, they generally keep to forests, preferring coniferous stands that provide shelter from the harsh elements. They are found in forests, farms, wetlands, parks, open areas, and suburban locales.

The white-tailed deer predates the most recent Ice Age and is the oldest extant deer species. It became abundant only after the last glaciation when the indigenous Ice Age fauna of the Americas became extinct and competitive and predation pressures were lifted. Its high speed in running, its legendary skills at hiding, and its ability to move silently reflect severe pressure from extinct American Ice Age predators.

White-tailed deer are more numerous in modern times than prior to European settlement of North America. In precolonial times, they were prey for wolves and mountain lions. Native Americans hunted white-tailed deer year-round.

White-tailed deer are browsers and grazers, leisurely grazing on most available plant foods. Their stomachs allow them to digest a varied diet, including leaves, twigs, fruits and nuts, grass, corn, alfalfa, and even lichens and other fungi. This animal is a ruminant and has no incisor teeth in its upper jaw.

The white-tailed deer is a specialist in exploiting disrupted forest ecosystems, but it is a poor competitor when faced with other species. For example, it has not held its own against European deer after its introduction to New Zealand and Europe. It has been locally outcompeted in North America by sika and chital.

Occasionally venturing out in the daylight hours, white-tailed deer are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, browsing mainly at dawn and dusk.

Males are larger than females and grow antlers from March-August. Age, genetics, and nutrition determine antler size, which establishes social status among males. During the mating season, the bucks fight to breed with does.

Large-antlered bucks, with their intimidating racks, mate more frequently. During the mating season, also called the "rut," bucks fight over territory by using their antlers in sparring matches. The antlers are shed in late winter every year and eaten by rodents for the high calcium content.

White-tailed deer have good eyesight and acute hearing, but depend mainly on their sense of smell to detect danger. They have numerous scent glands on their legs for intraspecies communication, and secretions become especially strong during the rut.

During the mating season in November and December, much of the courtship is carried on at a run; many males try to keep up with the speedy female. Mating is quick and unceremonious. The buck guards and mates with the female for a day before searching for another female in heat.

Females become territorial before giving birth. The gestation period averages 202 days; twins are often born. In the tropics, reproduction may take place year-round.

A baby deer, called a fawn, weighs 3-6 pounds at birth. Fawns can walk at birth and run within a week.

Fawns are reddish-brown with white spots for camouflage. The spots disappear by the fourth or fifth month.

White-tailed does are painstakingly careful to keep their offspring hidden from predators. When foraging, females leave the fawns in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time.

Fawns are weaned at approximately 6-10 weeks of age. Mothers sometimes raise daughters to adulthood and then depart, leaving their home range to the daughters.

Females generally follow their mothers for about two years, but males leave the group within the first year. Bucks develop a pair of spiked antlers by the fall of their second year.

White-tailed deer use speed and agility to outrun predators, sprinting up to 30 miles per hour and leaping as high as 10 feet and as far as 30 feet in a single bound.

A native species at Fossil Rim, white-tailed deer may potentially be seen in the Front Pasture (first pasture) or the Main Pasture (third pasture).

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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.