White-tailed deer are the smallest members of the North American deer family and can be found in most areas east of the Rocky Mountains.
Adults have reddish-brown coats in summer, and grayish-brown coats in winter. "White-tailed" refers to the white underside of the tail, which deer display and wag when they sense danger. When a mother deer (or “doe”) is running, this white underside can help her fawns follow her.
Weighing between 100-300 lbs., these large mammals are agile and may bound at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour through the forest. Deer are also good swimmers, and have good eyesight, hearing and sense of smell.
Male deer (or “bucks”) have antlers which they use during the mating season, when the males fight to breed with females. Bucks shed their antlers each winter and grow new antlers in the spring.
As the largest herbivore (plant-eater) in Virginia, deer have a profound impact on native forest ecosystems. Without their natural predators like grey wolves or mountain lions, deer populations can grow too large for their environment and over-browse remaining forests. Because deer like to feed on leaves, buds and twigs of young trees and shrubs, over-browsing prevents sufficient growth of native forest plants, including trees. As a result, forests are unable to regenerate, and other wildlife lack food and shelter.
Deer are generally solitary, especially in summer, and live in family groups of a mother and her fawns, although does have been observed to graze in large herds.
Deer are very adaptable and inhabit forests, fields, and even cities and towns. Suburban areas with a mix of woodland, farms and residential yards provide ideal conditions. Most deer live about 2-3 years although some can live 10 years or more in the wild.
Deer usually mate between October and December, and the female has 1-3 fawns in spring. Fawns are reddish-brown at birth with white spots that help camouflage them. They can walk at birth and forage for food a couple of days later. Deer usually feed in the early morning and late afternoon. A doe leaves her fawns well-hidden while she feeds. If she has more than one fawn, she hides them in separate places.
A deer's home range is usually less than a square mile. Deer move more during the breeding season (October-December) than any other time of year, so watch out for them as you drive. Slow down and stay alert!