Summit Outside: Whitetail deer in Colorado
I’ve have seen several deer around Dillon Reservoir this summer. Unlike many areas, especially the East Coast, the white-tail deer is not overly abundant in Colorado.
Some friends in New Jersey had a show case garden. Their prized plants were constantly food for deer, and they tried all kinds of advertised repellents to no avail. I use to stop by from time to time to admire their garden, and one of the last times I was there I was shown: “what the deer didn’t eat!” They now live in Boulder and are working on a rock garden.
Deer were also a common sight at a friends’ cottage in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. They could be seen traversing the lawn almost any time of the day. This fall there were several deer walking along the edge of Sentinel Island on Dillon Reservoir and I recently saw a doe and her youngling at the edge of the Frisco Marina parking lot.
Deer are generally difficult to spot because they tend to be solitary and do not linger in open areas for long. They lurk along the edges of streamside woodlands, moving in the shadows and are mostly active at dawn and dusk.
The deer that I saw were browsing on grass at the edge of the parking lot one early morning. I was able to sneak up and take a few pictures, but they were pretty wary and those large ears perked up and they turned tail after about five minutes.
Deer feed mostly on woody vegetation, including twigs, leaves of shrubs and trees and ornamentals in people’s gardens. They also forage on crops, especially corn.
There are two species of deer in Colorado; mule deer and whitetails. Whitetails do not migrate seasonally. Whitetails are distinguished by their broad white-tails and graceful lope, with the flag-like tail held erect. Both species are about four- to six-feet long at maturity and are three feet or more at the shoulder. Bucks can reach over 400 pounds, but does are generally half that size.
Like the elk and moose, adult males shed antlers in the winter and begin to grow them back in the spring. Male whitetail deer grow antlers with a single main beam that bears smaller tines. As with the elk, bucks avoid each other as their new antlers develop.
In the fall, the days shorten, the testosterone levels rise, and the antlers reach full size as the velvet starts drying up. That’s when rutting behavior begins.
The bucks start clashing with each other to establish dominance and mating rights. Bucks will rub their antlers and the scent glands near their eyes on branches, shrubs and small trees marking their territory, then begin making scrapes several weeks after the first rubs. They track trails, smelling for secretions from glands in the does’ hoofs. Bucks will look for a suitable spot to mark their territory by pawing the ground, creating a scrape. Bucks then urinates in the depression, making an imprint of their front hoof print in the middle. This lets other bucks know this is a buck’s spot. They may then break an overhanging branch off and rub the branch with their scent glands and salivate all over it.
During this period, the bucks’ necks enlarge, from the constant rubbing and high levels of hormones. This prepares them for battle. At the peak of the breeding season, sparring matches will give way to full-blown combat.
Rather than gathering does into harems as the elk do, males cluster around does that are ready for mating. The peak of the rut for this species is early November in Colorado.
When hiking in the woods, you might see scrapes on the ground where bucks have left their scent to mark their territory. Unlike elk, white-tailed deer are not especially vocal.
Some Native American cultures have regarded the “White Deer” to be a spirit, typically that of an ancestor or benevolent soul transfigured from human form. There is an Indian legend called “Ghost of the White Deer”.
Over 60 years ago, the white-tailed fawn Bambi was made famous by the animated film produced by Disney. This was based on a book ” Bambi, A Life in the Woods,” by an Austrian author. Bambi is still a popular children’s story and in June 2008, the American Film Institute ranked Bambi third in animation in its “10 Top 10” of the best 10 films in each of 10 “classic” American film genres.
Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of
microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.
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