Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Backyard Nature - The Whitetail Deer

By far the most common large animal in North America is the whitetail deer. Now a regular sight in all but five U.S. states, the whitetail was surprisingly once much less numerous. Due to overhunting and deforestation, whitetail deer only numbered about 300,000 in the 1930s. Since then, large-scale conservation efforts and strict hunting regulations have seen whitetail populations soar to a current estimate of 30 million in the United States alone.
Part of the reason for the whitetail’s success has to do with its adaptability. These deer are capable of eating a wide variety of grasses, legumes, fruits and vegetables; even some that are poisonous to other animals. Though once confined mainly to forested areas, loss of habitat due to agriculture and urban sprawl has forced the whitetail to adapt to life in more open areas, even moving into the territory of its close cousin the mule deer in its eastern range.

Another reason whitetails thrive is because they have few natural predators. Large carnivores such as gray wolves and mountain lions have been forced into extinction in the eastern United States, and the remaining coyotes, bobcats and lynxes are too small to prey on adult deer. The only current means of whitetail population control is their popularity as a game animal.
Of course, the massive increases in both whitetail deer and human populations over the last 80 years have made interactions between the two species quite common. Deer are frequently spotted in suburban areas, and are all-too-often involved in vehicle collisions. According to the CDC, there were 247,000 deer-vehicle collisions in the United States in the year 2000 alone, resulting in over one billion dollars in property damage.
Fall marks the beginning of the mating season for whitetail deer, and is traditionally the time of year when they are most often spotted crossing roadways, often around dusk. Especially in autumn, motorists are urged to pay attention to deer crossing signs, use their high beams whenever possible and keep a sharp eye out on the road for these beautiful animals.

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