The White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus is the second beast featured in Flower Hill Farm’s Bestiary.
These beautiful chestnut, crepuscular creatures are mostly much beloved here at Flower Hill Farm. I know this is not the case for many gardeners and farmers. I do manage the land so that there is always a good supply of young woody saplings of oak, beech, birch and maples for the deer to browse on.
Our farm can be divided up into five parts. The farmhouse and studios sit high up on the hillside surrounded by the gardens that sweep into the north, east and south fields. Blueberry fields meet the open wildflower fields and lead down into the forest. The deer mostly graze on the land below the blueberries and just along the forest edge. This is the area that I must cut every couple of years. I cut saplings out of the blueberries every year. The trick is to have plenty of tender shoots for them to nibble on so as not to be too tempted by my favored plants. Though, like all of us, deer do enjoy a diversity to their diet and I will lose some crisp buds along the garden paths during the growing season mostly.
Our apple trees are very generous and there is always abundance in free fall for all the beasts living here. The fruit trees offer a great opportunity to observe the White-tailed deer and their speckled young. One can count on seeing these marvelous mammals just beneath the heavily apple laden branches early mornings and at dusk most days during apple time.
I particularly enjoy walking at a distance from these yearling (I believe) siblings as they are not afraid of me. Wary, but not startled enough to run off, the youngsters continue to munch apples and are not sure what to make of the odd person with a big black eye. You must imagine a odd looking human wearing a camera and speaking softly . . . standing about ten feet away from the deer in the images above. I can read their body language and know that if I step another foot closer they will most likely leap away in fear.
Of all my encounters with White-tailed deer . . . the sweetest memories are of these sleeping fawns. Females will often leave their young in a safe place while they venture off in search of more diverse foraging. I feel deeply touched that a wild animal would feel the gardens are a safe haven. People should never move these dear little beings . . . believing them to be orphaned.
As I come closer to photograph the fawns, they lift their sleepy spotted bodies and we all take a walk around the garden. ( I know I should have let them be . . . they need their rest.) I walk behind the twins at a good distance and assure them with quiet words that my intentions are caring . . . so as not to alarm them. Amazingly . . . they are not.
After about twenty minutes, both fawns return to the exact patch of grass or dirt, and folding their tiny wobbly legs . . . they curl back into their resting. As I walk to the balcony, twenty feet away, which allows a wider view of the land . . . I survey carefully for predators . . . the fawns give way to sleep. Nodding heads fully relax in fawn fashion as seen in the shot below.
I jokingly rename our place Flower Hill Fawn Care that June of 2008. There are other fawns . . . solo and triplets . . . hiding in the shrubberies and running along the paths, throughout the fields and gardens, during the month as well. Their spotted bodies help to camouflage them as they lie perfectly still . . . so as not to be discovered by predators.
While standing on the balcony stairs I feel a strong presence to my right . . . and slowly turning towards the upper garden . . . I see the mother. She is frozen and strikingly beautiful enveloped in lush green. She stands in alert while staring up at me where I stand on the stairs overlooking her helpless young. Before I knew what was happening . . . tiny flashing bodies of fawns were dashing through the green landscape in earnest to reach their mother and begin nursing. What hungry little beasts. It is nearly dusk . . . but I am able to record these precious moments.
Where did mom go?
The doe did not feel safe with me watching nearby . . . so stepping through the shrubberies, she led her precious fawns into the south field and out of my sight.
I sighed deeply with gratitude.
A female may give birth at around eighteen months old. Young females will most likely have a single fawn, where a more mature doe can have twins or triplets. Mating takes place in late October into November and early December. A doe will carry her young for about six months.
When encountering these graceful beauties in the garden, fields and along the forest edge, I am always struck by their elegance and stateliness. Throughout the thirty years of my farming and gardening this land the White-tailed deer have caused very little damage to my trees, shrubs or plants. They will nibble here and there . . . but never mow plants down or damage tree trunks as rabbits or voles so often do. Come fall and the first hard frost deer will eat my kale and any greens in the garden, but they allow me all the greens I care to eat . . . all summer long . . . unlike rabbits! Just this past year they discovered they enjoyed hosta . . . so I will have to have a stern chat about that this year. Then again, if I have to lose a few hosta plants in order to continue having these enchanting encounters . . . so be it. I will learn of other plants they do not like and replace them . . . hopefully native too.
Running with deer . . . yes . . . when I was stronger . . . I would once in a while . . . wildly run down into the garden . . . when sighting deer and run with them . . . of course they were running from me and far ahead. I felt such a sense of freedom and let the deer know they shared the garden.
There are times when I will clap my hands loudly and tell them in a firm voice not to over indulge in the verdant life that I care for. We seem to have an understanding. I like to think that some of the mature females may remember me from when they were fawns. I know that sounds silly but we cannot know for sure how wildlife perceive us.
Often during June I will come across a doe and she will call out to her fawn . . . here we see a fawn calling back to her mother.
The White-tailed deer molt in the fall and their lovely chestnut coat becomes brown for the winter months.
When a wild animal looks at you this way . . . it stirs wonderment deep within.
Sue Sweeney a team member of this site wrote a wonderful piece on White-tailed Deer and what we might do to manage the overpopulation of deer in some areas. You can find it here. I highly recommend it. I live in an area that is not overpopulated and know that I am lucky to be able to enjoy White-tailed Deer and not worry that they may destroy my gardens or the wild plants around me.
We do need to think of a better way to manage wildlife such as bears and deer. After all, we have moved into their territory and are overpopulating the land ourselves. Taking responsibility and truly trying to solve the problems of our contribution to an imbalance may just save both the ‘beasts’ and our way of life.
© 2012, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.