White-tailed deer

Tumnus and Tamara (Summer, 2006)

Tumnus and Tamara (Summer, 2006)

This adorable fawn was brought to the nature centre as an orphaned animal.  We were able to look after the fawn for a short while before it was picked up en route to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.  During that time, we affectionately named the fawn “Tumnus”.

summer 2012 trip 301 - Copy

Deer Carcass

Red-tailed hawk feasting on a White-tailed deer carcass (Conservation Road, GLNC, 2008)

Red-tailed hawk feasting on a White-tailed deer carcass (Conservation Road, GLNC, 2008)

Deer Lookout

Deer Lookout (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, September 2014)

Deer Lookout (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, September 2014)

Alexis found this place on our most recent tracking trip to Orangeville.  We found ourselves sheltered by cedar trees on a sandy hillside overlooking the valley below us.  It felt like a secret place that only the local animals knew about – a quiet place with a high vantage point to enjoy the sunset or the sunrise.  We found deer beds here, built into the gravel from many sleeps and dust baths.  One dust bath, with a beautiful view (above photo) had a yellow-shafted flicker feather in it and a porcupine hair.  Turkey tracks walked the edge of the sandy lookout.  I thought about this place when I went home that night.  I dreamt about deer and being fast enough to run my fingers through their fur while they were feeding on plants – a momentary expression of surprise on their faces as they looked at me flying by.  I thought about how deer must feel safer when they are up high – with many escape routes and good views of trails that predators might try to use to sneak up on them.  I remembered playing LazerQuest when I was younger and how the winners of the game were the players that had stationed themselves on the top level with a high vantage point.  I believe that deer are clever – I am learning this about them as I track them and learn their stories.

Deer browse

A deer would approach a pile of corn to nibble a little at the edges where the corn was spread thin, then move to another pile and nibble there – the way in which deer browse on plants. When certain plants realize that someone is eating them, they put out a bad-tasting toxin. Thus it’s best to browse a little from one plant and then move on to another before the plant catches on.” (The Hidden Life of Deer*, page 21)

*Thomas, E.M., 2009, The Hidden Life of Deer, HarperCollins Publishers, NY.

Deer Graze on Wild Leek

White-tailed deer grazing on Wild Leek. (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, May 2014)

Deer Browse on Royal Fern (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Deer Browse on Royal Fern (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

After seeing a black bear in August 2014, I returned the next day to the same location to look for bear feeding signs.  At first, I assumed that the bear had been eating Royal Ferns since the Sporangia had been nipped and chewed.  However, the browse sign looked older than one day since the stems had darkened.  I also found a deer hoof print in the mud beside the shoreline.  Deer browsing on the Royal Ferns seemed more likely than bears browsing on the fern.  I learned that Royal fern is the largest fern occurring in North America. The genus is named for Osmunder (also known as Thor), the Saxon god of war.  I learned that deer rarely browse the Royal Fern fronds but apparently they enjoy the sporangia (or spore-producing) part of the fern.

Royal Fern Sporangia (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Royal Fern Sporangia (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

What nutrition does the deer gain from eating the Sporangia?  Can humans eats Royal Fern Sporangia?

Signs of Deer Grazing on Deadly Nightshade (Monocliffs Provincial Park, September 2014)

Signs of Deer Grazing on Deadly Nightshade (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, September 2014)

I was surprised to learn that Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna can be eaten by deer.  Its leaves and berries are highly toxic to humans. I read that it is an effective antidote to Muscarine poisoning by the Fly Agaric mushroom.  Tropane alkaloids are found in all parts of the plant which affect our parasympathetic nervous system controls.  One of the many symptoms of poisoning are dilated pupils and increased heart rate.  Historically, the belladonna berry juice was used in Italy to enlarge the pupils of women, giving them a striking appearance.  The name “belladonna” means “beautiful lady”.  However, this risky practice was not a good idea because it can be poisonous.  It is also used for treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  I also learned that flea beetles eat Deadly Nightshade as well – note the invertebrate feeding signs on the leaves.

Deer Grazing on Wild Ginger (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, September 2014)

Deer Grazing on Wild Ginger (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, September 2014)

Seeing these wild ginger plants beside a fawn’s track, along a deer trail made me think about animals using plants as medicine.  The roots of the wild ginger plant have been used to treat irregular heartbeat, gas and stomach cramps in humans.  Could this be true for deer as well?  If I was to test this theory, I would need a study group of deer with upset stomachs and plenty of wild ginger available for grazing.  I learned that in Europe, injured deer were observed by hunters in locations where they could press their wounds in Sphagnum moss.  The injured deer would wade out into peat and moor waters and also roll around in areas where soft clay could be found.  Traditional human medicine has often used dried moss and peat as wound dressings and Sphagnum Moss is reported to have antiseptic properties.  Based on everything that I know about the resiliency of nature, I think that it is safe to assume that animals do use plants as medicine.  Here is an interesting article called “Herbal Medicine came from Animals” .

Deer Grazing on Equisetum (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, September 2014)

Deer Grazing on Equisetum (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, September 2014)

I love this quote by a deer hunter re: Do deer eat Equisetum (Horsetail)?

“Well, they never cease to amaze me.  In the past, I read that horsetails were one of the few plants that use silica to support their structures. Silica as in silicon, think glass needles or sand which wears down teeth and plays hell with the GI tract.  Who knows though, maybe they eat them for reasons other than food. Silica may have medicinal or antibacterial properties. There is so much we don’t know about that and deer – it is amazing.”*

*QDMA Discussion Forum, January 2013, viewed October 14, 2014, http://www.qdma.com/forums/showthread.php?t=54866

Equisetum (Horsetail) is descended from tree-like plants that lived 400 million years ago.  It is a survivor!  It contains silicon – a mineral needed for bone health.  Horsetail is also suggested to be an antioxidant.  Here is an interesting article about the medicinal properties of Horsetail from the University of Maryland: Horsetail.

Deer Browse on Red Clover (Rotary Forest, September 2014)

Deer Browse on Red Clover (Rotary Forest, September 2014)

According to an article by Craig Dougherty in the OutdoorLife magazine:The average whitetail eats about 6 pounds of forage per day. Much of what they eat is browse which typically contains about 6 to 8% protein.  A pound or two of clover at 25% protein is a welcome addition to their daily protein intake. Whitetails thrive in diets containing roughly 16% protein.”*

I am curious why white-tailed deer often eat only the top parts of plants.  I read in Craig’s article that “Long, tall clovers (like most reds) contain a high percentage of stem like material (lignin) and whitetails do not digest lignin well.“*  This might explain why deer prefer eating the tips of plants rather than the stems and why I don’t enjoy eating kale.

*Planting Clover for Deer, April 25, 2013, viewed October 14, 2014, http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/big-buck-zone/2013/04/planting-clover-deer

Deer Browse on Leatherwood (Allan Park, November 2014)

Deer Browse on Leatherwood (Allan Park, November 2014)

Deer Browse on Leatherwood (Allan Park, November 2014)

Deer Browse on Leatherwood (Allan Park, November 2014)

Here is a great article by the Macoun Field Naturalists about what deer like to eat (with some information about Leatherwood, which apparently is a preferred food for deer in the winter): http://www.magma.ca/~rel/mfc/deer.html

Deer Browse on Apple Tree (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Deer Browse on Apple Tree (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Deer Browse on Balsam Fir (Huntsville Area, February 2015)

Deer Browse on Balsam Fir (Huntsville Area, February 2015)

What are the deer eating when they are browsing just the tips of the Balsam Fir in winter?

Balsam Fir Terminal Buds (February 2015)

Balsam Fir Terminal Bud (February 2015)

The deer are eating the terminal buds of the Balsam Fir.  I tasted one and it wasn’t too bad.  A bit grainy with a balsamy aftertaste.

Deer Browse on Eastern Hemlock (Durham, March 2015)

Deer Browse on Eastern Hemlock (Durham, March 2015)

Deer Browse on Eastern Cedar (Durham, March 2015)

Deer Browse on Eastern Cedar (Durham, March 2015)

Deer Runs

Deer runs are quite narrow in comparison to bear or human trails for example.  The run is often more V shaped than square.

Deer Run through Equisetum (Horsetail) (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, Spetember 2014)

Deer Run through Equisetum (Horsetail) (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, September 2014)

Deer Trail (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Deer Trail (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

The right trail had been created by 3 deer that were travelling together.  The left trail showed tracks left by a single deer travelling in deep snow.  He or she seems to prefer the road less travelled.

Deep Snow Tracking

Which way was this deer headed?  To the left or to the right?

Deer Track in Deep Snow (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Deer Track in Deep Snow (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

How do you determine the direction of travel when you find a track like the one above? Consider the deer track like a sideways hourglass. The hoof enters the track on an angle (requiring more space) and lifts upwards out of the track (requiring less space). Generally, the smaller end of the hourglass points in the direction of travel. As the deer moves through deep snow, snow falls off of the front of the animal (knees etc.) as it moves forward.  This creates snow spray in the direction that the animal was headed.  The direction of travel is to the left.

Deer Beds and Lays

A lay is when an animal lies down temporarily while out feeding.  The stay is short and the animal is unlikely to return to this exact location for some time.  A bed is when an animal spends a longer amount of time and returns to an area repeatedly.  Beds are quite worn.*  Elbroch suggests looking for deer beds on steep ground that provides greater protection at night. (Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 390)

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Deer Bed in Grass (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

Deer Lay (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September 2014)

According to Mark Elbroch, deer lie on their sides, with their front feet tucked under them (we saw this in the track) and their rear legs out to one side. Elbroch says that it is easy to identify the “knees” where the front legs bend back under the body, and the body which is a well-defined curve*. This deer lay was facing the human trail which was at least 30 metres away. The lay was also close to a nearby conifer forest.

Deer Bed (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

Deer Bed (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

What was the deer doing while resting?

A friend lent me an excellent book called “The Hidden Life of Deer”. The author, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas gives a great description of what deer do while “ruminating” in the grass:

Like all ruminants, deer have divided stomachs to deal with their food. Thus, they can eat for as long as an opportunity lasts, packing the food into the first division. When they feel safe and have time, they lie down, bring up the food in little balls about the size of plums, chew each ball thoroughly, and swallow it into the second division. This must be a very nice experience for deer – a sunny spot, a chance to rest, and the pleasure of chewing and swallowing.” (The Hidden Life of Deer*, page 73)

*Thomas, E.M., 2009, The Hidden Life of Deer, HarperCollins Publishers, NY.

Deer scat

Deer Scat, Luther Marsh )April, 2008)

Deer Scat, Luther Marsh )April, 2008)

In April, 2008 the trails surrounding Mallard Pond at Luther Marsh were submerged in water. We fortunately had rubber boots to wade through the shallow rivers that now covered the trail system. This deer scat was found on higher ground.

Fresh Deer Scat (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Fresh Deer Scat (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Often a scat has a point on one end. This was the inner end, the last part of the scat to leave the animal, and thus points in the direction the animal was going.” (The Hidden Life of Deer*, page 70)

*Thomas, E.M., 2009, The Hidden Life of Deer, HarperCollins Publishers, NY.

Deer Urine

Deer Urine (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

Deer Urine (Luther Marsh, February 2015)

I have just recently discovered that the smell of deer urine is quite appealing.  The smell is similar to sweet coconut or Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen.  Try it and tell me what you think…

A teaching colleague (Victor) and I have pondered the idea of creating urine and scat scented smelly stickers.  We already know that it may only draw a small (but interesting) market of customers.  Imagine the possibilities…

Deer Shedding Antlers

Hall's Pond2

Valerie and Jonathan finding a deer antler (Hall’s Pond Property, Guelph, April 2007)

While reading an article by Dr. Dave Samuel in Whitetail Journal, I learned that deer start to develop antlers in April or May. Shedding (also known as “casting”) times can vary widely from one geographic area to the next. Antlers drop from mid-December to early April.  One thought is that bucks drop antlers early due to cold weather. Other observers insist that hot weather causes antlers to drop. Some claim that the older bucks lose their antlers first, while others suggest antler drop is impacted by injury, poor nutrition or dominance.*

*When do deer drop their antlers?, January 2012, viewed October 14, 2014, http://www.grandviewoutdoors.com/articles/when-do-deer-drop-their-antlers#sthash.aZFmad6R.dpbs

Deer Tracks

Deer Track (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Deer Track (Bruce Trail, Orangeville, December 2014)

Right or left hoof?

Deer prints are asymmetrical.  The inside toe is slightly smaller than the outside toe.  The photo shows a right hoof.

In June (2014), while overnighting at Alexis’ and Bobbi’s place in Durham County, we located some sweet tracks of a mother deer and fawn.  I love the next photo, showing the mother’s track first and then the baby’s track as it walked behind its mom, stepping in its mother’s track.  We nicknamed the deer “Bobbi and Violet” in celebration of new baby Violet. Spring is a such a beautiful reminder of the importance of family and new birth. I have included a few more photos of the fawn’s tracks – so tiny!

Doe and Fawn Track (Durham County, June 2014)

Doe and Fawn Track (Durham County, June 2014)

Fawn Track (Durham County, June 2014)

Fawn Track (Durham County, June 2014)

Fawn Tracks (Durham County, June 2014)

Fawn Tracks (Durham County, June 2014)

Deer Track in Sand (Lockyer Sand Pits, May 2014)

Deer Track in Sand (Lockyer Sand Pits, May 2014)

Deer track with dew claws registering

Deer track registering dew claws (Spruceline Farm, May 2014)

Deer Scrapes (look for signs in the autumn)

Broken Branch Pointing to a Deer Scrape (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September, 2014)

Broken Branch Pointing to a Deer Scrape (Hockley Valley Nature Reserve, September, 2014)

Scrapes will be on a deer trail in a relatively open area, usually under a tree that has at least a few branches five to eight feet off the ground. The buck wants his scrape to be obvious, and to this end he stands on his hind legs and breaks one of the branches so that it hangs down. He may also chew the branch a bit, and rub his forehead on it, which imbues it with his scent. He then makes his scrape in the place to which the branch is pointing. But not every scrape has a broken branch.” (The Hidden Life of Deer*, page 92)

*Thomas, E.M., 2009, The Hidden Life of Deer, HarperCollins Publishers, NY.

Deer Scrape

White-tailed deer scrape (Mono Cliffs Provincial Park, May 2014)

The buck makes a scrape by clearing away the fallen leaves and some of the earth with his front feet. When it is of a size that’s to his liking he stands on it and rubs his rear feet together to collect the pheromones from the glands on his ankles. He then shifts his weight to his front legs and brings his hind legs forward so he can urinate on these glands. The buck assumes a unique and astonishing posture – some say it’s almost a handstand. He washes a meaningful mixture into the scrape, which tells the other deer that it was he who made it.” (The Hidden Life of Deer*, page 93)

*Thomas, E.M., 2009, The Hidden Life of Deer, HarperCollins Publishers, NY.

 

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