White tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), are found throughout Massachusetts including on the islands Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Deer are found throughout Massachusetts. Usually found in rural or suburban areas, they occasionally show up in cities.
Deer usually seek out forest-edge habitats or thickets intermixed with glades, wetlands, or abandoned pastures. They have adapted easily to the fragmented forests typical of most suburban residential areas. In fact, deer densities are often higher in suburban areas than in rural areas because of the abundance of supplemental foods, including landscaping plants.
White-tailed deer have long, slender legs; large ears; and a tail that, when the deer is alarmed, flares erect to reveal the white underside for which the animal is named. They belong to the Cervidae (deer family), which includes elk, moose, caribou, mule deer, and many others. White-tails can reach a total length of approximately 6 feet and a height of approximately 3 feet.
White tailed deer are smaller than most people realize; attaining a total length of about 71 inches and a height of about 39 inches. Weight depends upon age, sex, and physical condition of the animal and upon the quality and quantity of food available to the deer. Bucks (male deer) generally range in weight from 100-250 lbs. whereas does (female deer) are somewhat lighter at 70-150 lbs. In addition to their larger size, bucks also are characterized by branched antlers that grow each year and are shed after the breeding season. On rare occasions, does grow antlers.
Weight depends on the age, sex, and physical condition of the animal and on the quality and quantity of food available to it. Bucks (male deer) generally range in weight from 100- 250 pounds, whereas does are somewhat lighter at 70-150 pounds. In addition to being larger than does (female deer), bucks also have antlers that grow each year and are shed after the breeding season. Occasionally (very rarely!), does with antlers have been documented.
Duing the summer, the upper coat of the deer is reddish-brown with short, thin, straight, wiry hairs. In winter, the coat changes to a grayish-brown, with long, thick, hollow hairs that are slightly crinkled and provide excellent insulation against the cold. The belly, the throat, the areas around the eyes, the insides of the ears, and the underside of the tail are white year round. Fawns (very young deer) are chestnut-brown color with conspicuous white spots on their back and sides that provide camouflage from predators. These spots fade by 3-4 months of age.
Breeding & Offspring
In Massachusetts, breeding takes place between late October and early December. At this time, bucks are more active throughout the day than usual. Rutting bucks often chase does across roads without hesitation, so drivers should be extra cautious during the late fall. Slow down, and stay alert to avoid vehicle-deer collisions.
After a gestation period of about 28 weeks the fawns are born, sometime between late May and early July. Depending upon her age and physical condition, a doe may produce one, two, or three fawns, each one weighing about 4-6 pounds and able to walk within an hour of birth.
White-tailed deer are herbivores and they consume a wide variety of herbaceous and woody plants. Deer lack incisors on the upper front jaw. Twigs browsed by deer will look as though it was partially clipped, with a trailing, ragged edge. By contrast, a twig neatly "snipped" off, with a clean, smooth cut, is an indication of a rabbit or woodchuck browsing.
Food preferences depend on the kinds of plants growing in an area and the season of the year. Typically, deer eat green leaves, herbaceous plants, and new growth on woody plants in the spring and summer. In late summer, fall, and early winter, hard and soft fruits such as apples, pears, and acorns are a major part of their diet. In winter, the deer feed on evergreen leaves, hard browse (twigs, shoots, hardy leaves, and buds), or bark from trees. In poor habitat, deer may become undernourished and thus more vulnerable to exposure and disease. These deer are also typically smaller, with smaller antlers and a lower reproductive rate.
Deer are ruminants, meaning they have a four-chambered stomach and frequently chew a "cud". Food preferences are largely dependent on the kinds of plants in an area and the season. Green leaves, herbaceous plants and new growth on woody plants are eaten in the spring and summer. In late summer, fall and early winter, both hard and soft fruits such as apples, pears and acorns are a major component of their diet. In winter, the deer feed on evergreen leaves, hard browse (twigs, shoots, leaves and buds), or bark from trees (during severe winters or when food supplies are limited). Good supplies of a variety of natural foods at all times of the year are essential to support healthy deer.
White-tailed deer are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk. Deer may also be active at other times of the day, especially during the breeding season in late fall.
Typically, an adult doe, her fawns, and in some cases female offspring from the previous year will all stay together on the maternal range, in a familiar habitat of 1-2 square miles in size.
Males leave the maternal range as yearlings to adopt either a solitary existence or, more commonly, to form bachelor groups consisting of two to five individuals. Typically white-tails in New England travel no more than 5-15 miles, with bucks traversing larger areas than does.
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