Deer: Our Urban Neighbors

A Guide to Getting to Know the Deer Who Live Among Us
A field guide

Our Urban Neighbors.

Spotting a deer grazing on the side of the road tends to elicit a mix of emotions. On the one hand, there’s the thrill of seeing a beautiful, wild animal; on the other, fear the animal will suddenly bolt out in front of your car, causing an accident. It’s a fear that’s not unfounded. As deer populations grow, human/deer encounters are on the rise as well.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which can be seen in and around Tallahassee, prefer habitats providing wooded areas for cover during the day with adjoining, open areas for grazing during the early evening and predawn hours. Cleared roadsides, as well as farms and suburban gardens, fit these criteria nicely. These grazing habits can be costly — from a ruined suburban flowerbed, to acres of destroyed crops; and from a costly auto repair, to loss of life.

As is the case with all human/wildlife issues, the onus to find solutions to problems lies with us. Deer crossing signage on highways has proven to reduce accidents significantly when people slow down and pay attention. Local county extension offices may be able to offer some suggestions to make your garden a little less attractive to the deer. But it is important to remember the deer are doing what comes naturally: finding the easiest and most abundant food source in their habitat.

Stats and facts about white-tailed deer

» White-tailed deer are the most economically important big game mammal in the U.S. and Florida with an average expenditure of $1,500 for each deer harvested. More than 100,000 deer are harvested annually in Florida — 94 percent are bucks.

» Florida’s white-tailed deer tend to be smaller than those in northern states. An average Florida buck weighs about 125 pounds while northern bucks can weigh more than 300 pounds.

» There are estimated to be more than 700,000 whitetails in Florida, up from a low of 20,000 in the 1930s.

» The NHTSA reports there are about a million deer/auto accidents in the U.S. annually. These accidents result in about 200 human deaths, 10,000 injuries and $1 billion in vehicle damage. Most accidents occur in late fall when the animals are in their mating season.

» The USDA identified deer damage as the most widespread form of wildlife damage to crops, with some states reporting tens of millions of dollars of damage annually.

» When alarmed, they will raise their tail in a response called flagging. The flash of white silently alerts other deer nearby of the danger.

» White-tailed deer are primarily brown, with the namesake white on the bottom of the tail, rump, stomach and inside the ears.

» White-tailed deer are one of 171 species in the taxonomic order Artiodactyla which means “even-toed.”

» There are 30 subspecies of white-tailed deer distributed throughout North, Central and South America, with three subspecies in Florida.

» Deer are crepuscular — most active around dusk and dawn.

» Bucks have deciduous antlers, not true horns, which are shed and regrown each year.

» Their hooves are actually the toenails of the third and fourth toe on each foot.

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