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Deer facts to ponder

July 17, 2010
By Garry Brandenburg, Times-Republican

DEER are out and about, and if you are in the right place at the right time, you may see one or several as they break into the open along roadways or wander into backyards for flower treats to eat. Young bucks are growing antlers complete with a velvety fuzzy covering rich in blood supplies to provide for the fastest accumulation of calcium known to nature. All members of the deer family Cervidae grow antlers. For big deer like moose, that is an impressive set of head gear to grow in one season. Caribou, mule deer, blacktail deer and elk grow their own recognizable patterns of antlers. Antlers are shed each year and new growth starts the following spring. Antlers are bone material.

New antler growth ingredients comes in part from the diet the animal eats and in addition, calcium is depleted from the sternum and some ribs to supply the short term need for bone (antlers) on top of the head. Over the course of the season, the cycle to resupply ribs and sternum with the calcium they require is regained. Mom Nature has it all figured out. Still, antlers are the fastest growing natural tissue on earth.

An extinct animal called the Irish Elk was neither Irish nor was it an elk. The fact that many of its fossilized bones and antlers were found in Irish peat bogs gave rise to the name. It was really an Old World Deer that once belonged to a successful lineage of deer across Europe and Asia. The last of this species became extinct at the end of the last ice age. Male "Irish Elk" had a body approximately as large as an Alaskan moose and antlers could be anywhere from 8 to 11 1/2 feet wide! A re-created mount of this animal with its huge wide antlers is on display in Tucson, AZ at the SCI Wildlife Museum.

Article Photos

This fawn and its sibling twin were observed in the front yard of a friend who lives along the Sand Road. While the deer were nibbling and carousing about the yard, this author was content to snap away with the camera and telephoto lens. This fawn is about 6 weeks old, is quickly learning the lay of the land and finding all kinds of various foods. Whitetail fawns have spotted coats, in fact, about 300 spots. Those spots mimic filtered sunlight through tree leaves and bushes, a temporary camouflage to avoid predators.

Antlers are not horns. Horns are made of a keratin material, are not shed annually but are retained and continue to get longer, broader or thicker over time. Horns grow on bovines or sheep type animals. Bison, desert bighorn sheep, Rocky mountain big horn sheep, Stone's sheep and Dall's sheep are on this species list. America has it own unique species called the Pronghorn, which technically is not an antelope, which does shed its outer layer of horn each year to grow a new layer. Other true horned North American animals include the all white mountain goat and the musk ox of northern Canada.

Back to whitetail deer, here are some other interesting factoids about this wild animal. Doe deer are bred in late October through early November. Seven months later, they give birth to a fawn or fawns that will weigh about 6 to 7 pound each. Eighty-two percent of the fetal growth of fawns occurs within the last trimester of pregnancy. This corresponds with the end of winter, the beginning of spring and the green-up of new vegetation. Perfect timing.

Fawns are not really completely scentless, but there are elements of this animal that seem to help avoid the noses of predators such as coyotes or wolves in northern climates. Doe deer can always locate their offspring by scent, something she can smell that perhaps other animals cannot.

Do deer sleep? Yes, but in short bouts, alternating dozing off with eyes open or shut, and with heads raised or low to the ground. This author recalls returning from an early morning deer hunt a few years ago, and while crossing an open grassy field, spotted a deer laying down and observed its head going up and down slowly, but not in the act of eating. Binoculars helped unravel the mystery. This deer was dozing off, sleeping in fact; its head would bob up and down to the unrelenting need for its body to rest. (I've seen people do the same thing during a boring speech). I decided to approach as close as I could, moving only when the deer's head was down, and being especially quiet as I walked. How close did I get? Well, not close enough. Another deer was standing unseen along a fence row, and it spotted me in the sneak mode. Once it gave its signal to move out, the dozing deer reacted instinctively and ran also. It was fun trying.


Last weeks story about PHEASANTS did not have enough space to tell all the interesting bits of history of this bird. So, I'll add a few more for you today.

Prized for it beauty and tasty meat, Europeans of high class reserved the right-to-hunt these birds. Common folk would be in big trouble for killing a wild pheasant. There were other numerous attempts to bring pheasants to America besides the very successful release in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Ben Franklin's son-in-law Richard Bach, released pheasants in New Jersey. George Washington had some sent to his Mt. Vernon estate during his first year as President. The Governors of New Hampshire and New York also attempted the release of the old English black necked pheasant. Most of these birds were raised on farms and proved not hardy enough to survive on their own.

Pheasants have short but very powerful wings. This is nature's way to provide for a fast takeoff to gain flight speed, and to set the wings to allow for a glide to a landing. Flight speeds are generally 38 to 48 mph. Pheasants like to eat almost any seeds, either weed or small grain, and small insects. Incubation starts in late May, lasts for 23 days and has an average brood size of 12. Survival rates for birds with a mild winter and good habitat is about 95 percent. The numbers go down if the winter is severe to about 50 percent. Mild winters with poor habitat can still see 80 percent survival. Only 20 percent live on if a severe winter and poor habitat conditions prevail.


The BALD EAGLE remote camera overlooking the nest at Decorah is now out of service for the rest of the year. However, some very interesting tidbits of information were gained. For people, it was a chance to watch the eaglets hatch and grow over time. There were over 325,000 individual computers logged on to the nest camera. And these computers had over 3,870,000 separate contacts. People from 125 countries used computers to spy upon the eagles.

The nest camera also confirmed that bald eagles can be active at night. The infrared night camera documented adult eagles flying to and from the nest in the dark of night. We may have wrongly assumed that eagles were the day shift and owls were the night shift. That may be true to a large extent but now we know there are a lot of gray tones to this black and white issue.


"Fear paralyzes, curiosity empowers. Be more interested than afraid." Patricia Alexander, American educational psychologist.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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