White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

Of all the animals that call Ruthven Park home, the White-tailed Deer is by far the largest. Standing anywhere from approximately 70-106 cm at shoulder height, varying based on bucks or does, they are one of the most majestic species that can be viewed here. However, you might have a tough time seeing them due to their day/night cycle.

As humans, we have what is called a circadian rhythm, meaning we are generally awake in the daylight hours and asleep in the night hours. White-tailed Deer are different than humans; their circadian rhythm is the complete opposite. They are crepuscular animals, meaning that they are typically awake in the hours of dawn and dusk and asleep during the rest of the day. This pattern is also shared by most cats including domestic house cats. Now you will know why your cat is waking you up in the wee hours of the morning the next time it happens.

When White-tailed Deer are active, they spend most of their time foraging for food and bedding sites. They are herbivores, which means that their diet consists of plant matter. They tend to favour seeds/nuts, berries, leaves/needles, and mushrooms. In fact, in smaller locations that have large populations of deer it can be very easy to tell because every tree trunk will be bare to the height that the deer can reach. This is known as a browse line.

Now you might be wondering to yourself, “what happens to the young deer (fawn) while the parents are away foraging?” While the parents are off foraging during the day, they leave their fawn(s) at home in the bedding site. How do they know that their baby will be safe? Young deer have no smell! This means that a predator, such as a coyote, cannot hunt fawns using their sense of smell. This is very important for deer survival. Fawns are also covered in white spots which help them to camouflage into their surroundings. So, even though the mom does not wander far, she can always trust that her young will be safe and will stay right where she left them!

So, how do you know that a deer is in your presence if they are as stealthy as we indicated? You look for deer tracks! Deer tracks are some of the easiest tracks to identify when out in nature. Deer have cloven hooves, like that of a cow or sheep. This means that that in the ground you will see two separate sections that almost join in the middle. Sometimes there will be two extra spots behind the front sections, but this occurs in male White-tailed Deer only. Also look for branches that have been freshly ripped off of nearby trees to be eaten!

The next time you are out in nature remember that you are sharing that space with so much wildlife around you! Take notice of the quiet moments and appreciate all that nature has to offer. Always remember to respect the boundaries of wildlife and cherish the moments that you have observing these truly magnificent species!