Critter Curriculum
White Tailed deer photo
White-tailed Deer White-tailed deer are one of the most studied and talked about species in the state. The importance Vermonters place on deer is evident in looking at the state seal. It is a deer, not an eagle or other mythical creature that sits atop the state seal!

Deer Biology White-tailed deer are one of the four species of the North American Deer family. Elk, mule deer and moose are the other three. White-tails are the most numerous and widely distributed member of the deer family. They live in a wide variety of habitats, from southern Canada to Central America.

Their population over this range is estimated to be 25 million. In Vermont, deer are found in the mountains, river valleys, agricultural lands, and even in backyard suburbs.

Deer are completely vegetarian. They eat a variety of leaves, twigs, and nuts. In Vermont, a deer's diet consists of maple, ash, birch twigs and leaves. Small plants, grasses, and fruit and nuts such as apples, acorns, and beech nuts also are important foods. In order to get the nutrition from such a wide variety of food that is hard to digest, a deer has four stomachs-just like a cow. This helps deer digest food that a human couldn't possibly digest.

Habitat White-tails are very adaptable and occupy a wide range of habitat types. In Vermont, deer are found statewide. Known as a species that prefers forest "edge," they occur in highest numbers in habitats that feature a blend of large woodlots and agricultural openings. Because they are so adaptable, they also are found in more limited numbers in the expansive forests of the Green Mountains and the Northeast Kingdom.

In its northern range, deer winter areas or "deer yards" are a critically important habitat type for deer to survive through the cold winter. Only 7-8% of Vermont's forests make up such wintering areas. An important part of a deer yard is the evergreen trees that catch the snow in their branches, thus reducing snow depth underneath. The trees also provide thermal cover that gives the deer protection from the wind. Deer may move 10 to 15 miles to go to a yard and stay in the protection of the area all winter.

Don't Feed Deer During Vermont's long, cold winter, it may seem like the deer need human help to survive. Many people feed deer during the winter, but the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department strongly recommends against feeding deer for several key reasons:

Increased risk of disease transmission. Deer concentrated at feeding sites are more likely to contract diseases such as tuberculosis, salmonella, and brucellosis. Because of the nose to nose contact deer have at feeding locations, these deadly diseases are easily passed from one deer to another.

Smallest deer get pushed away. Competition for food around the feeding sites can be fierce. The smallest and weakest deer, usually fawns, get pushed to the end of the feeding line. Wild, dispersed deer rarely display this behavior, and allow the younger deer an opportunity to eat.

Habitat destruction. Deer continue to feed on natural foods like trees and shrubs even while being artificially fed. Because of the intense concentration of deer in a feeding area, the surrounding trees and shrubs become permanently deformed or destroyed.

Deer lose their natural wildness. Deer get used to being around humans. This u sually results in deer becoming pests by destroying neighborhood gardens and shrubbery. People often become possessive of "their" deer, leading to difficult decisions regarding over-population.

High risk of attack by dogs. As deer concentrate around feeding sites they become increasingly vulnerable to attack by neighborhood pets. Their loss of wildness aids in this vulnerability. Wild predators, such as coyotes, are often drawn to the feeding sites, too.

Feeding deer is expensive. A deer's digestive system is sensitive to sudden changes in diet. Commercially blended foods should be provided for the entire four-month wintering period. This will average about $55 per deer. Because one deer always leads to many more, hundreds of dollars each month can be spent.

Deer and People in Vermont Controlling deer numbers is important because an over-abundance of deer can cause habitat damage due to over browsing of natural forest foods; can cause damage to crops; and pose a danger on Vermont highways from deer-vehicle collisions. Part of balancing the needs of deer and the needs of people is the role of regulated hunting. Deer hunting in Vermont is a 100-year tradition. It is an enduring element in the cultural heritage of Vermont. It is a family activity (deer camps) and community activity (game suppers at fire houses and churches). Through regulated deer hunting seasons in the fall of each year, deer numbers are managed. The public harvests more than 800-thousand pounds of venison each year.

Many Vermonters also enjoy viewing and photographing deer as they go on walks or rides throughout the state.

Additional Information:
Chronic Wasting Disease