A member of the Ungulates, or hoofed mammals, deer are one of the most well known animals. The white-tailed deer is one of the most common species and can be found throughout the United States, except for in parts of the far west.
Adult male deer, called bucks, can weigh more than 400 pounds and usually live in small groups. Does, adult female deer, can weigh up to forty percent less than bucks, and live in larger groups which include their offspring. Mating season, known as rut, occurs between October and January, with one to three fawns usually born in May or June.
Agricultural areas with woodlots, fields, and streams are common areas for deer. Deer are often found living at forest edges where they can retreat into the forest for shelter and escape, and can browse in open areas or fields. “Home ranges” are used by related females, but exclude sexually mature related males. White-tailed deer are most often active at dusk and dawn when there is less danger.
The feeding habits of deer can vary widely depending on location. As herbivores, they feed on a variety of plant material throughout the seasons, including flowers, shrubs, acorns, cultivated plants, and ornamental shrubbery. They will even eat grass if need be.
Deer can jump over eight feet high and can run at speeds up to 40 miles per hour!
POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS
It is usually not difficult to determine deer damage, especially in gardens and landscaped areas. Tracks and droppings are good signs of their presence. Another easy way to tell if it’s deer that are doing the damage is to look at twig ends. Plants or trees that are browsed by deer have a ragged, squared, and torn appearance because deer do not have upper incisors and can’t neatly clip plants. Areas with high deer density may show a “browse line”, where vegetation will be trimmed from the ground up to the deer height, usually around 3 – 6 feet from the ground. Sometimes damage to tree bark can occur when bucks rub their antlers along tree trunks.
There are a variety of techniques that can be used to minimize and even eliminate damage done by deer. Landscape design involving careful selection and placement of plants is helpful. Planting native species of shrubs and trees can help, as well as beginning preventative measures against deer damage before it begins, especially in the spring. Consulting with a local nursery or landscaping company about appropriate plants is a good first step, as they often have listings of deer-resistant and deer-attracting plants, as well as what kinds of and when plants are being eaten in various areas.
If deer browsing is heavy, deer-proof fencing is the most effective and long-term way to protect resources such as crops or landscape plants. A range in fencing designs are available, from high-tensile strand wiring that may be angled for better effectiveness, to standard mesh-woven wire, chain-link designs, and various types of electric wiring. Fences should be at least eight feet high and extend underground to prevent fawns from crawling underneath them. Very simple fencing designs can be used if there are other food sources available in the area. However, if food is in high demand, deer can jump fences ten feet high. Fencing or netting individual plants is often effective if fencing an entire area is too expensive. Trees can be protected from buck rubs by wrapping them with corrugated plastic sleeves or surrounding the tree with 2-inch wooden stakes four to five feet high.
Repellents can be used to detract deer and work by either directly making the plants distasteful or by deterring them from an area using sight, smell, or sound. Repellents work well in smaller areas and gardens. Homemade repellents can be made by placing human hair, soap, or garlic in netting or stocking and tying it to tree branches or fences around an area that needs protection. Commercially made contact repellents are also available and can be sprayed directly onto plants, though many cannot be used on food crops.
With any kind of repellent, the key is to begin using it as soon as you see deer damage, and change or reapply it often, especially after rain or when new growth appears.
Another kind of harassment technique that may repel deer is the use of scarecrows and effigies, especially ones that move. Motion sensing lights, scare tape, balloons, mirrors, strips of tinfoil, and even wind chimes and radios can be effective in frightening deer away from an area. Varying these devices and using them in combination with other strategies is a good idea in order to ensure that they remain successful.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Deer can be hosts to the ticks that carry Lyme disease. There is current debate about their role in contributing to the spread and prevalence of this disease, however, as adult ticks live on other hosts as well, and declining deer densities have been proven to not have affected the production of new ticks.