May 23, 2020
White-tailed deer are quite common in the parks and ravines throughout the GTA. Ones that want to hang around with you and pose for pictures are much less common. Having seen pictures of the busy trails last weekend I decided that there was a better chance of seeing wildlife along a secluded section of the Etobicoke Creek Trail. From the moment I arrived there was a great deal of bird activity and it wasn’t long before a deer appeared on the bank on the far side of the creek. I moved slowly and quietly to get as close as possible but the deer just stood there watching me. When I got close enough I discovered that it was a male that has a good start on his antlers for this year.
White-tailed deer antlers are the fastest growing bone material in the animal kingdom. Over the course of four months a healthy buck can grow over 200 inches of bone on his head. This buck soon decided that I wasn’t a threat and went back to eating the leaves on the tree in front of him.
Antlers will form as small nubs in late March and there won’t be much change throughout April. The animals are still recovering from the stresses of the winter and food sources are not the most nutritious at this time of year. By May the leaves are coming out and the animals have access to much better food sources. This causes the antlers to really start their rapid growth. The deer I was watching was thoroughly enjoying the feast that was set before it.
White-tailed deer are hosts to deer ticks which can carry Lyme disease and past experience has shown that this park has ticks in it. It was hot and I was sweating and as I passed my hand through my hair I found what I thought was a small tree flower. It turned out to be a tick. Needless to say I had a shower and washed my clothes when I got home. About this time the deer started into grooming itself for me as if it wished to be photographed looking his best.
By the end of May the second point on the rack of antlers will typically be forming. When it was done preening itself the buck made a double turn, like a puppy, and sat down and looked at me.
If there is plenty of rain in the month of June and the forest remains lush the deer will eat well and antler growth will be at its optimum. By the end of June the antler will be well formed and all the primary points will have begun to grow. After watching me for a few minutes it got up slowly and stretched like a cat and slowly made its way toward the creek.
The antlers continue to grow throughout July reaching their full size by the end of the month. In early August growth stops and the blood flow to the antlers is decreased which starts the hardening process. My friend stopped for a drink in the creek to wash down the lunch it had been enjoying when I arrived.
It takes about three weeks for the bone in the antlers to harden at which time the deer begin to shed the velvet coating that has supplied blood to the growing antlers. The buck stopped to make sure I was following before it crossed the creek. It also picked a spot where it was easy for me to cross as well.
After the rutting season the male deer experience a period of rapid loss of testosterone levels. This loss of hormones creates a weakness at the antler base, known as the pedicle, which causes the antlers to fall off. This will usually happen over the winter although some deer may shed their antlers as early as December. I sat on a log and watched while the deer explored a little bit around the area. He didn’t go far and presently came back to check up on me again.
Most antlers will biodegrade but a few will be collected and turned into displays or are carved into a bone handle for a knife. After spending an hour with me and posing for over 100 pictures it was time for the wildlife to go and be wild again. Recently I had seen a couple of female deer just a few hundred meters from here and perhaps he wanted to go see what they were up to.
This deer shows how much wildlife can become adjusted to living in close proximity to humans. Although I enjoyed the experience and getting all these pictures I’m not sure that familiarity is such a good thing.
The following picture was taken in September at Rattray Marsh and the antlers are fully grown on this buck.
It will be interesting to see if the deer in this story stays in the same area, perhaps we’ll be able to get some update pictures.
Google Maps Link: Etobicoke Creek Trail
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