Riverwoods residents share their gardens and roadways with whitetail deer, but it’s been left to hunters and researchers to come up with some amazing facts about these sometimes problematic neighbors. Such as:
Eating Habits – Depending on what’s available throughout the year, whitetails eat young leaves, tender shoots and twigs, vines, legumes, hay, nuts, acorns, fruits, corn, and grain. Deer prefer to eat forbs (flowering plants) and mushrooms because they’re easily digestible, but they get the most nutrition from browsing among easily reached shrubs or young trees no matter what the weather. They can eat mushrooms that would be poisonous to us, as well as poison ivy.
Sleeping – Whitetails sleep in many positions (head up or chin on the ground; legs tucked under or extended) and with their eyes either open or closed. A sleeping session can last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, followed by a short period of alertness, and then more dozing. Deer spend the majority of their time in these dozing/alert cycles, especially in the winter.
Vocalization – Researchers have found up to 400 different whitetail calls. Most calls are as soft as a buzzing insect, but there are also the louder alarm, mother-fawn, and mating calls.
Antlers – Antlers tell much about whitetails:
- Male whitetail deer (bucks) begin growing antlers in their second year, and the first branch will appear by year three. Whitetail deer antlers are among the fastest growing tissues known (as fast as 1/2-inch per day). A buck fawn has no antlers and is sometimes called a button buck.
- Antlers grow rapidly, beginning to emerge in the spring and continuing to grow throughout the summer. In the autumn, males use their antlers to spar with other deer.
- As a buck matures its antlers will grow more points, but they eventually max out and become smaller and smaller as the deer ages. Optimal development is around 5 to 8 years of age. Since genetics and nutrition play a major part in the development of antlers, a buck’s age is difficult to tell by the antlers. Teeth are a more reliable way of telling the age of a deer.
- The soft, hairy skin called velvet that covers the antlers helps protect and nourish the antlers. The velvet dies off once the antlers reach full size. Bucks rub the velvet off on trees and bushes, and this rubbing process not only helps to remove the velvet but to strengthen the neck muscles for the upcoming rut (mating season). Tree bark can be damaged by the rubbing, but spraying smaller tree trunks with a deer repellant before winter sets in will keep the deer away.
- During the winter, after the rut, the antlers drop off as part of the annual shedding process, but new ones will emerge the following spring. This shedding causes no discomfort.
- Antlers are a tasty and nutritious treat for smaller mammals like mice and foxes. The antlers are a great source of calcium and fun to gnaw on if you’ve got really sharp front teeth. Since bacteria finish off what the mammals don’t eat, humans will rarely find an untouched set of antlers.
- Female whitetail deer (does) rarely grow antlers. The only does that regularly grows antlers are reindeer.
Bachelor Groups – Bucks form bachelor groups that travel together during spring and summer. These groups may contain bucks of different ages, and bucks in an individual bachelor group usually are not related to each other. Bachelor groups form outside the breeding season when antlers are absent or still growing and when testosterone levels are at a low point. Bucks within a bachelor group will establish a pecking order through the use of physical displays, vocalizations, or hoof flailing. As the summer winds down testosterone levels begin to rise and bucks begin to spar, using their new antlers. Later, as the rut approaches and testosterone levels continue to rise, bucks become less tolerant of each other and the bachelor groups break apart.
Territory – Whitetails live in what are called home ranges. These home ranges can overlap, and deer within these overlapping home ranges share close quarters at times, even the same bedding area, and even in fall when the bachelor groups break up. Bucks will displace each other from feeders, from a doe in estrus, etc., and this could result in intimidating postures and even violent rushes. However, the subordinate/losing buck won’t abandon his home range but will adjust his travel schedule so he can get what he wants while more dominant bucks are elsewhere.
The size of a home range depends on the terrain and the quality of the habitat (food, shelter, and breeding opportunities). The average home-range size or bucks is estimated at anywhere from 350 to 650 acres, but the ranges are fluid and dynamic and the bucks will go wherever they need to go to get food and water or to find does. The average home-range size for does is 200 acres. However, there is a core area where a deer will feel secure and comfortable and spend the majority of its time. Mature bucks tend to have smaller core areas than younger bucks.
Breeding Season – Late fall is the breeding season for whitetail deer in Illinois, thereby allowing the fawns to be born in the late spring or early summer months (the months of the most abundant, available nutrition). Generally, adult does with good nutrition will have twins and sometimes triplets. Fawns weigh about 4 to 7 pounds at birth and can stand and run slowly within a few hours.
Longevity – In Illinois, the average life span for does is 5.5 years and 2.5 years for bucks.