White-Tailed Deer Fawns

2022 September 4

I was biking in to work on September 1, 2022, when I abruptly realized that I had just passed a deer that was standing next to the trail. So, I immediately stopped to see if I could get a picture, and by the time I got my camera out and running I realized that there were actually two of them. They were pretty unconcerned about me, so I was able to get a number of photos.

Here’s a closeup of the one in front,

And another of the one in the rear.

These are both this year’s fawns, as you can tell by the spotted pattern on their coats. They would have been born sometime back in May, and at this point they are about half-grown and roughly the size of a large dog.

This was not somewhere out in the country. This was in a 500-foot-long “green strip” between Houghton and Portage Lake, in a spot between the last recreational boat docks at the Super 8 Motel, and the first waterfront houses. The greenery they were heading for is a slope that was too steep to build on, and so it is still all trees and shrubs. The direction they were heading was going to end up in the backyard of the Beta Sigma Theta fraternity on College Avenue once they got to the top of the hill.

I expect that these are the same pair that I saw in the distance a couple of times earlier in the summer, wandering around the Michigan Tech campus. Given how unconcerned they were about me, they have probably been wandering around town grazing on people’s gardens for a while now. It would not surprise me even a little if somebody in one of the fraternities or sororities was feeding them. And even if they aren’t being actively fed, they do like a number of popular garden plants, like tulips and hostas. These may not even be the only deer in town. For one thing, their mother was probably up in the trees somewhere watching us. Houghton in general has a lot of green spaces in town, with substantial trees and quite a bit of cover. It wouldn’t surprise me much if there were as many as a dozen deer who were at least coming into town from time to time, if not actually living there.

White-tailed deer (Odocoeilius virginianus) in Michigan have a complicated relationship with humans. For one thing, they don’t actually do well in mature old-growth forests where there aren’t many understory plants. So when the Upper Peninsula was logged off and the new, smaller plants grew back to replace the old trees, the environment became a lot more congenial to deer, and they went from fairly rate to quite common. Meanwhile down in the southern Lower Peninsula, there had originally been more deer, and there they suffered a lot more from being hunted. Also, in southern Michigan the land was being cleared for agriculture, which left less cover for the deer than the re-growing forests did in northern Michigan. This resulted in the deer becoming more common in the north, and less common in the south. Michigan actually started regulating deer hunting fairly early, beginning back in 1859, and gradually tightening up the hunting season allowed the population in the south to rebound. Deer went from fairly scarce to quite common, and by the time I was a kid in the 60s and 70s they were plentiful throughout the state. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates their population in the state at varying around 1.5-2 million, which is a lot considering the human population is only about 5 times that at 10 million.

While the deer have pretty much adapted to human-modified environments, most of their predators have not, and so the current situation is that the only serious limits on the deer population are hunting by humans, and starvation over the winter if the population gets too large.

They aren’t exactly domesticated animals, but they are increasingly OK with living in close proximity to humans, especially since there is only about a month out of the year where they are seriously hunted (and the females and fawns are hunted a lot less, if at all). For that matter, it is generally illegal to go shooting off firearms in town, so the ones that hang around town are probably safer than the ones out in the woods.

Aside from hunting, the main danger to deer from humans is getting hit by cars. But even that seems to be declining. I think the local deer have started figuring out how to watch for traffic, there don’t seem to be as many people talking about hitting deer as there used to be, even though the deer are still clearly around.

And, on an unrelated note, here is a nice shot I got the next day of a cumulus cloud back-lighted by the sun.

One Response
  1. October 16, 2022

    Gorgeous sky photo, Tim!

    As for the deer, to my mind, they’re just simple-minded herbivores. Eat green food. Walk to more green food. Eat that.

    Here in San Diego, we have a few mule deer that live in the desert scrub. Just how they survive the dry summers is beyond me.

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