Deer are Hoppin’ It Here in Weston: Winter Wildlife
Not a conservation land walk nor even the Owl’s usual 3-mile running loop seem to be without some deer sightings in the last couple of weeks. As some of you know as hunters or admirers of these graceful animals, this is a pretty exciting season for deer–and for the car drivers heading through their forests (and yes, Weston is pretty much their forest).
Weston’s deer are all white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and, according to Mass Audubon, they are the most abundant of Massachusetts’ large game animals, and they are excellent runners and good jumpers (if you’ve seen one launch over your stone wall, you know what I mean). When they get freaked out, their little tail stands up on end, showing the white fur underneath.
What you may not know is that some of these deer are not all that big, even as adults. Males range from 100-150 pounds, and females around 70-150 pounds. You may see males with their antlers right now, which they will start to shed soon after breeding season each year. In January, WFTA’s annual scavenger hunts for antlers will start (this is not quite true). It is one of Katie Puppy’s, WFTA K9 Ranger, favorite times of the year, right after leap into the scuzzy culvert and look for possums season, which is apparently all year round.
And you’re not dreaming–the deer are changing colors–they are reddish-brown in the summer but put on winter coats that are more greyish with longer hollow hairs that are winter insulators. This is cool. And if you see any little dudes with white spots, those are fawns under four months old–that’s when the spots disappear with a molt. Hopefully you are not seeing little dudes right now as it is way too late in the season for them to survive very well.
According to Mass Audubon, much of Massachusetts is ideal deer habitat, which is the biggest understatement of the century. Since deer prefer forest-edges close to fields where they forage for food, and woodlands where they find shelter and breed, 95% of Weston is their preferred real estate. And they will pay more rent for places with ponds, lakes, and streams. While the home range of a deer is usually 2 to 3 square miles, they will move if they get the munchies and there is nothing to munch.
Deer cut their food intake during the winter by 30 percent and activity by 50 percent (Mass Audubon’s numbers). They eat buds, leaves and tender shoots of woody plants as well as berries, fruit, grain, acorns, nuts, lichen and mushrooms. Also my rhododendrons, the little jerks. They are quite the little vegans. They will also chomp up some of their favorite tree snacks: hemlock, apple, black cherry, maples and red oak. And yeah, occasionally they do want to eat your topiary in the “lean season.”
Why are you seeing more deer crossing the road to get to the other side right now? Well, it’s cray-cray time for the males who are trying to find their best girl. They simply do not care about your 3-ton SUV as they run off to meet the doe of their dreams. The end of November and early December near nightfall are particularly busy times, and you’ll want to make sure your brakes are working. Also your heart. Driving an owlet from indoor soccer one night near Minute Man Park, a deer ran across right in front of us, I hit the brakes (thank you Mr. Musk for some nice alarm system-ing), the deer hit the brakes, slid on three legs and a butt cheek across the far lane, and kept going. Oh mens, as my mom would say. During the rest of the year, the girls hang out together in maternal herds, and the boys wander around looking for handouts. That’s a summary.
As most Westonians know, Weston’s bow-hunting season is open until December 31. You can learn more about that here. If you choose to walk in neighboring town conservation lands, be aware of their hunting rules. For instance, Grafton‘s shotgun season is open and you’ll want to wear orange–they don’t like Weston dogs. I am kidding, I hope. Or hike on Sundays when no hunting is permitted.
Respect the wildlife.