Where the Deer and . . . Other Deer Play

December 15, 2021

By Pat Loomis, Volunteer Writer

We have a wealth of deer in our area. The two main varieties are the whitetail deer and the mule deer.  Whitetail deer have large ears but not as large as the mule deer.  The most obvious difference is their tails.  Mule deer have a white rump and a tail with a black tip at the end.  Whitetail deer have a brown rump and only the underside of their tail is white.

As we move into winter, it’s important to remember that animals have unique adaptations that allow them to weather the harsh, cold conditions that are common in our region. Deer store extra fat to provide insulation for their vital organs.  They grow a dense undercoat with hollow “guard hairs” to provide warmth and insulation to help them survive up to -30F*.  Because of this furry undercoat their body heat can’t escape.  The trapped air from the hollow guard hairs act like multi-pane windows, trapping the air and insulating the deer in the cold winter months.

Deer are less active in winter.  They reduce  their metabolism to save energy. They eat less, and conserve extra energy by not foraging far for food.  Deer group together in winter to consume available resources.  They eat coniferous tree tips, buds, and lichen. They use their hooves that have gained thick pads for winter to paw for food on the ground.

Primarily nocturnal or crepuscular (appearing at twilight), they browse mainly at dawn or dusk, bedding down under trees for the day to conserve energy. They have keen vision, and hearing, and are able to smell lichen and other food around them.  With eyes on the sides of their heads, they have a 310-degree range of vision (compared to 180 degrees for humans). Deer are herd animals and don’t function well alone.  They protect each other by watching out for predators. A simple swish of a tail can alert others of danger.

As you spend time outdoors this winter, think of the animals whose home is outside and respect the extra effort it takes form them to survive and thrive in our cold climate. Be sure to give them space on trails and to continue to support local efforts that protect natural spaces in which they can find peace and safety.