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Oh Deer!

Fall in The Parklands is a wonderful time to enjoy the crisp cool air and view the Eastern Deciduous Forest with its many colors. As the days grow shorter animals begin their preparations for the colder months ahead. The shortened period of daylight is the stimulus for several biologic changes such as the shedding of leaves, the southward migration of many bird species, and the beginning of the breading season, also called the fall rut, for white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer exhibit an interesting assortment of behaviors associated with their breeding season. In Kentucky the breeding season typically runs from October to mid-January, peaking in November. Most fawns are born in June after a seven month gestation. Fall is a great time for observing deer in natural areas such as The Parklands, but it is also a time to exercise caution when driving on park roads.

Deer begin the breeding season by establishing a hierarchy of dominance.  Young males spar with one another to establish dominance and attempt to overturn the ruling dominant male.  These sparring events usually involve pushing and shoving but may eventually escalate to more serious fights between males of equal status and strength. The decrease in daylight stimulates male deer to produce more testosterone and shed the velvet from their antlers. Deer rub their antlers on scrubs or small trees during the cool fall nights. These markings can be seen on many trees throughout The Parklands, and are used as scent signposts for other deer in the area.   You may even see areas called “scrapes” made by bucks pawing at the ground exposing bare soil and urinating to mark their territory.  These “scrapes” are usually accompanied by a broken branch that may also be scent marked.  Hikers should keep an eye out on the trails for evidence of deer “rubbings” and “scrapes”.   With few natural predators and a steady food supply, deer are very abundant in The Parklands and motorists should expect to see them often along park roads as well as the surrounding county roads.

The true breeding season begins when the female deer, which are called does, enter estrus and become receptive to males.  This is really the most dangerous time for deer and motorists. The male deer begin to exhibit chasing behavior and do not stop to look both ways before crossing.  Deer are most active in the early morning and again in the evenings between five and eight.  According to the Kentucky State police 47% of all collisions with deer occur between October and December, accounting for 1.6 million deer- vehicle collisions yearly.  So while you may have a natural fear of snakes or coyotes, in Kentucky you are much more likely to be injured in a vehicle-deer accident than in an encounter with any other wild animal.  So while you are out enjoying this beautiful autumn air keep an extra eye open for deer along roadsides in the park. 

For additional information about how to avoid deer collisions check this website:  http://www.globalanimal.org/2012/10/17/avoid-hitting-deer-this-fall-with-these-tips/

 

Sources: 

www.noble.org/ag/wildlife/rut

Gee, Ken.  “In a rut- Breeding Season Behaviors in Deer”

http://fw.ky.gov/pdf/whitetaildeerinky.pdf

Phillips, Jon.  “White Tailed Deer in Kentucky”

About the Author

Picture of Hannah Graham

Hannah Graham

Hannah joined the 21st Century Parks in 2013 as an Interpretive Ranger, responsible for creating and delivering interpretive programs to the public. As a native Kentuckian, Hannah has a passion for educating herself and others about Kentucky’s complex ecosystem. Hannah is a graduate of the University of Louisville where she studied Biology and English. Hannah in currently enrolled in continuing studies at U of L and has just completed an Ichthyology course. In her free time she enjoys long walks in the woods with her husband and her dog.

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