Deer are generalist herbivores that exist in rural, suburban, and some urban areas throughout much of North America. White-tailed deer often shift from open canopy vegetation to forested cover seasonally and according to different food availability. During early spring, open canopy vegetation provides herbaceous forage. During summer deer may browse in wetland areas and in autumn deer often prefer hardwood forests if a mast crop is available. For these reasons, the white-tailed deer is a species that often thrives in the transition between forest and open canopy vegetation, or edge habitat. The forest/open canopy edge also occurs at the forest transition to areas such as landscaped suburban yards, parks, or playing fields where low intensity residential development is spreading into once rural farmed or forested areas.
More information and references are included in the ad hoc committee report, "Addressing the Urban Deer Population in Kalamazoo."(PDF, 2MB)
Deer productivity rates (fawns produced per doe) are generally highest in regions with an abundance of nutritious food. In lean years, deer tend to have just one fawn or none, reabsorbing their embryos when their nutritional status is poor. When their food supply is good, twins or triplets may be born.
In Michigan, the deer mating season typically occurs during late October through December. Gestation is about 200 days, and the peak of fawn drop is mid-May to mid-June. For the first couple of weeks, does leave their fawns in a hiding place for several hours at a time, returning briefly to nurse them. This strategy reduces the likelihood of predators locating the newborn fawn. Fawns begin to follow their mother on her foraging trips at about 4 weeks of age.
White-tailed deer fawns are nursed for 8 to 10 weeks before they are weaned. In southern lower Michigan, where habitat for deer is excellent and winters are relatively mild, about 30 to 50 percent of females breed as fawns and produce a fawn themselves when 1-year old. Pregnancy rates for does two years and older typically are very high, ranging from 80 to 95 percent. Pregnant one-year old does usually produce a single fawn, whereas older does usually produce twins, with singles or triplets possible depending upon their age and nutritional status.
The diet of white-tailed deer changes with the seasons. Succulent herbaceous plants, such as hostas, sedums asters, and chard are preferred by deer during the summer months. Favorite winter “browse” species in Michigan are white cedar, maple, birch, aspen, dogwood, and sumac, as well as many shrubs.
A deer’s life expectancy in Michigan is influenced greatly by hunting pressure and hunting regulations, but this only has an impact in rural areas. Deer-vehicle collisions are another major source of deer mortality in the state.
Behavior & Range
Deer leap as high as 10 feet in a single bound. Although they are great jumpers, fences that are 8 feet or higher typically deter them.
The size and shape of a deer’s home range varies with deer density, sex, landscape conditions, habitat quality, and seasons. Non-migratory deer in the southern lower peninsula have an estimated annual home range size of 0.2–2.9 square miles. Males generally have larger home ranges than females. Research has shown yearling bucks in southern Michigan travel about 6 miles on average. Female resident deer have a home range of .48 to .83 square miles. The relatively small annual home ranges may be attributed to:
- Land ownership patterns (scattered woodlots)
- Quality of hte habitat provided by stakeholders
- The positive values stakeholders have for deer
Influential landscape variables included distance to forest, roads, and urban development. Deer occupying better habitats can fulfill all their necessary requirements (suitable food and cover) in smaller areas. For the deer, this leads to good nutrition, which means excellent physical condition and a high reproductive rate. This highly fragmented landscape is the preferred habitat structure of white-tailed deer.