Thursday, July 7, 2016

Deer at Hagerman NWR

White-tailed Fawn at HNWR, by Skeeter Lasuzzo
Recently a number of photos of deer photos  have been posted to the Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page, so we know that the fawns will soon be old enough to begin traveling about  with the does at Hagerman NWR. Many visitors to the Refuge ask about the possibility of seeing deer and sightings are always a great experience, especially for youngsters.  Late each summer, Refuge staff conduct a deer count; in 2015 the count was 764.

According to National Geographic, white-tailed deer are the smallest member of the North American deer family. They are found from southern Canada to South America. Their preferred habitat is forest in winter and meadow in summer, with small areas of trees for shade.

Visitors to the Refuge who want to see deer should time their trip for early morning or late day, as the deer are  primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, browsing mainly at dawn and dusk. They are herbivorous and as ruminants, have special four-chambered stomachs that can digest a variety of plant foods, from leaves to twigs and acorns.   Each chamber has a different and specific function that allows the deer to eat a variety of different foods, digesting it at a later time in a safe area of cover.

White-tailed Buck at HNWR, by Larry Paar
Visitors will note that the deer appear to be different colors from season to season. Adult white-tails have reddish-brown coats in summer which fade to a duller grayish-brown in winter, and  can be differentiated from other deer  by the characteristic white underside to its tail.  Male deer, called bucks, are easily recognizable in the summer and fall by their prominent set of antlers, which are grown annually and fall off in the winter. Only the bucks grow antlers, which bear a number of tines, or sharp points. During the mating season, also called the rut, bucks fight over territory by using their antlers in sparring matches.

Summer doe at HNWR, by Joe Blackburn
Female deer, called does, give birth to one to three young at a time, usually in May or June and after a gestation period of seven months. Young deer, called fawns, wear a reddish-brown coat with white spots that helps them blend in with the forest.  Fawns take their first steps within half an hour of their birth, and  will usually stay with their mother for around a year. For the first four weeks, fawns mostly lie still and hide in vegetation while their mothers forage. They are then able to follow their mothers on foraging trips.

Visitors who find a fawn in hiding should not assume it is abandoned and should not attempt to touch or "rescue" it.  The photo below was taken at Hagerman and posted by Steve Harbula, who says, "Wonderful treat by Derby Ponds on Thursday afternoon -- a White-tailed Deer fawn who was trying to follow her mother but got confused and started heading right towards me! She soon realized that I did not, in fact, look like a deer and dove back into the undergrowth, where she lay down to camouflage herself and wait for mom's return." (See Steve's blog for more about his day at HNWR.)

Fawn at HNWR by Steve Harbula
Deer communicate through a variety of actions:

Alarm Signal, by Marilyn Pickens
  • Fawns release a high-pitched squeal, known as a bleat, to call out to their mothers.
  • Mature deer make a guttural sound that attracts the attention of any other deer in the area.
  • Both does and bucks also snort, a sound that often signals an imminent threat. 
  • Use of their white tail. When spooked, it will raise its tail to warn the other deer in the immediate area.
  • Scent from the forehead is deposited on tree branches.
  • Scent from glands on the legs and hooves signify bucks passing through an area or signal danger.
  • Scraping bark and earth, and urine combined with deposits from other glands all mark territory.

National Geographic reports that "In the wild, white-tails, particularly the young, are preyed upon by bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes. They use speed and agility to outrun predators, sprinting up to 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour and leaping as high as 10 feet (3 meters) and as far as 30 feet (9 meters) in a single bound." And not only can they run and jump, they are also excellent swimmers.

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