White-tailed Deer

October 16, 2022

White-tailed deer can be found throughout the GTA, and they are quite comfortable with the human presence, partially because they don’t experience the hunting season that their country cousins have to survive. Between Canada and the USA, the population is estimated to be over 710 million animals. Local populations and food sources are used to determine the number of animals that can be culled during hunting season so that the remainder can be healthy and thrive. While hunting deer may seem horrible to some of us it allows for a healthier herd that doesn’t suffer and die from starvation.

The life cycle starts in late May or June in Ontario when fawns are born. They are born earlier in the colder environments so that the young have the advantage of a full summer to get larger and stronger before the challenge of the next winter comes along. A yearling doe will have a single fawn in her first year and she’ll leave it alone while she forages in the first week of its life. She returns to nurse it 4-5 times per day until it is old enough to forage for itself. The newborn fawn in the picture below is well disguised among the branches and leaves.

Fawns have white spots in their fur when they are first born which they lose over the course of their first year.

The doe will take care of the fawn for the first year and they are very paternal and caring. The doe in the picture below is giving her fawn a lick on the top of the head.

In return, the fawn is very fond of the mother and shows signs of affection. The fawn in the cover photo was walking up to us to check us out but was called back by its mother who was concerned about how close it was getting. When she snorted the fawn immediately responded by returning to her. The fawn will become sexually mature in about six months if it is a female but will usually not mate until it is in its second fall. The males take about 1.5 years to become sexually mature.

A female will have a single fawn in her first year of reproduction but can have up to three fawns in subsequent years. These two fawns were following mama deer across the Credit River in Mississauga until she spotted us and called them into a retreat to the far shore.

Deer will molt twice per year, spring and fall, although the fawns will only molt in the fall of their first year. They will lose their spots in their first molt and the fawn below is seen part way through that process.

White-tailed deer will live between 6 and 14 years on average but can survive up to 20 years. A female will weigh between 88 and 200 pounds while the males typically will reach 150 to 300 pounds. They can reach 4 feet tall and 8 feet long.

Adult deer can run at speeds up to 64 kilometres per hour (40 miles per hour) and can jump up to 2.5 metres (8.2 feet). They rut (mate) in the fall between October and November and the female can come into heat every 28 days until she becomes pregnant. The normal gestation period is about 200 days while the animal passes through the winter.

Male deer are known as bucks and grow a set of antlers every spring which they cast off after mating season each year. They are the fastest growing tissues in nature and are made of bone, nerves and cartilage. They are covered by velvet which has small hairlike structures that allow the buck to feel their antlers and prevent them from getting damaged during the growing phase.

Growing antlers can take 3-4 times the nutrients that are required to grow the rest of the skeleton. For this reason, a male will have larger antlers after 4.5 or 5.5 years when the skeletal structure is finished growing. Dropping testosterone levels cause the antlers to be cast off in late winter or early spring.

Antler size and growth potential increases with the age of the animal. When they are 1.5 years old their antlers will only be 55-60% of their later potential. At 4.5 years they will have reached about 90% of their potential. The availability of food, severity of the winters and drought will determine whether a male reaches 100% of its antler potential at 6.5, 7.5 or 8.5 years of age.

The bucks tend to spend most of their lives alone except during the mating season when they use their antlers to fight other bucks for the right to mate with the local does. The females may mate with more than one male in the effort to become pregnant. Deer eyes have more rods than cones which means that they actually see better at night.

White Tailed Deer can be found in all of the ravines in Toronto and most of the larger parks. In the city they have become accustomed to people and are easier to spot while outside of town they tend to vanish at the first scent of humans.

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