Autumn is an exciting time in the Credit River Watershed. Leaves fall to the ground and expose wildlife often hidden by the lush greenery of summer. Ontario is home to about 400,000 White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). These deer are very active in fall as they prepare for winter.
For White-tailed Deer, the key to surviving winter is bulking up. Deer are herbivores, which means their diet is plant-based. During autumn they spend hours grazing on grasses, herbs, leaves and agricultural crops. They consume as many calories as possible in order to build up fat around their internal organs and under their skin. They can eat about four per cent of their body weight in a day. That’s about 13 lbs! In addition to their thick coarse fur, the built up fat insulates them and provides energy reserves for the cold months ahead.
In addition to eating as much as possible, mating is also on the top of their priority list. Mating season is called a rut and occurs between October and November. Deer become less cautious during the rut and are spotted frequently during the day, actively looking for a mate. The male deer (buck) entices the female deer (doe) by showing off the size of his antlers. If a buck feels threatened by another male, he may charge at the male using his antlers to prove his dominance. After a buck and doe mate, gestation is about seven months and fawns are usually born in May or June.
Like humans, deer also have to adjust to daylight savings time. As the days become shorter and mating season comes to an end, the buck’s testosterone levels greatly decrease. As a result, their antlers eventually fall off during winter – but not for long. Their antlers grow back in spring, growing at a speed of up to a quarter of an inch a day! Bucks can grow an entire set of antlers in less than two months.
While deer are not considered a species at risk, they face many challenges negatively influencing their ability to thrive in urban environments. As our population continues to increase, deer are experiencing habitat loss due to rural and urban land development, vehicle collisions, family pets and disease.
Deer species are an important part of our watershed and a key component to a thriving ecosystem. You can help deer by:
- Being cautious while driving along natural areas, especially during dusk and dawn and during the rut when deer are more active
- Maintaining and enhancing natural areas on private properties, especially where they connect to other, larger natural areas
- Not allowing pets to harass deer or other wildlife, by keeping dogs on leash