White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus

Copyright, Charles S. Lewallen

White-tailed Deer are the largest wild animals in Northern Virginia. They are found in forests, fields, brushy areas, streams, and marshes. We are now seeing them more in gardens, lawns, and along highways too.

White-tailed Deer are reddish-brown with a white belly and tail in Summer. In Winter, the reddish-brown changes to grayish-brown.

Male deer, called bucks, have antlers, up to three feet across, on their heads. Female deer, called does, and baby deer, called fawns, do not have antlers.

A large buck can be four feet tall and weigh up to 300 pounds. Females are smaller.

White-tailed Deer are mostly nocturnal, but can be seen any time of day. They do most of their feeding early in the morning or when the sun is going down.

Copyright, Roberta Stacy, http://homepage.mac.com/rstacy/


White-tailed Deer form small groups for much of the year. There are two kinds of deer groups. One is a mother deer and her fawns. One female deer may have up to three fawns at a time. The other type of group is made up of between three and five bucks.

Bucks try to prove their dominance (who's toughest and in charge) by ramming each other, as well as kicking and flailing with their legs. Bucks also mark their territory by making rubbing their antlers on trees.

In the Winter, White-tailed Deer meet up and form herds, sometimes with more than a hundred deer. Winter is also mating season.

A doe has from one to three fawns in a litter. It usually depends on the age of the doe and how much food is around. Fawns stay with their mother for almost a year. She drives them off before she has a new litter.

A doe leaves her fawns hidden in brush while she feeds. Sometimes she leaves them for up to four hours. They do not move while she is gone. They have extra white spots on their coats which help camouflage them.

Nature Works

A mother doe takes no chances with her young. If a fawn poops near the hiding place, the mother will even eat it so that no predators can find them. If the mother doe must run from a threat, the fawns can follow her by her white tail, which flashes while she runs.

White-tailed Deer run very fast, up to 36 miles per hour. They are great swimmers and can leap far as well. Deer can leap over eight feet high and thirty feet long.

A deer bed is an oval depression in leaves. They always sleep in places protected with cover.

Copyright, Bruce Hayward

Justin W. Moore

White-tailed Deer are herbivores, but they eat a wide variety of foods, including green plants in the Summer; acorns, fruits and nuts in the Fall; and twigs in the Winter. They also eat fungi when they can get it.

A list of plants deer eat includes: oaks, maples, pines, Sassafras, Witch Hazel, Flowering Dogwood, Smooth Sumac, Japanese Honeysuckle, Black Willow, Black Cherry, hawthorns, Greenbrier, rose, Switchgrass, viburnums, blackberries, blueberries, Common Elderberry, American Beech, American Hornbeam, Sweetfern, Meadowsweet, American Elm, wintergreen, American Holly, Mountain Laurel, ferns, goldenrods, Eastern Redcedar, sedges, Poison Ivy, grasses, aquatic plants, and many others.

Some plants deer favor certain times of the year, while they ignore them at other times of year.

White-tailed Deer also eat a lot of garden plants, vegetables, and ornamental trees from people's yards.

When a deer is nervous it will snort and stamp its feet. When it is alarmed it automatically raises its tail. Sometimes, when you startle a deer, all you see is a flash of white disappearing into the woods.

Fred Siskind, Huntley Meadows Park

Deer use many species of plants as cover and shelter, including young leafy trees, such as maples, pines, American Beech, American Elm, Eastern Redcedar, Black Locust, oaks, Yellow Poplar, Sassafras, American Sycamore, Sweetgum, and Black Willow. Other cover includes shrubs and tall plants, such as cattails and reeds.

Bucks shed their antlers in late Winter, after the breeding season. They grow new ones in the Spring, covered with "velvet," a soft covering. Antlers lose the velvet in late August.

Deer have few predators. Occasionally, a fox, eagle, or dog will kill a young fawn. Most deer are killed by hunters or cars.

Many large animals, including people, use trails made by deer through brush and woods.

Dear rubs, where bucks damage tree bark while marking territory, creates weakened areas where fungi can grow.

White-tailed Deer help some plants, such as Poison Ivy and Black Cherry, spread by pooping out seeds after they eat the fruit.

To the right are two pictures of deer scat. Scat is poop. You can tell which animals live in an area by the scat that is left there.

Deer scat can come in two forms, pellet or cluster. Which form is left depends on what the deer has been eating.

Remember, never touch animal scat, since it may contain bacteria which could harm you!

Mark Moran

Mark Moran

Additional Media

White-tailed Deer Bucks Feeding
White-tailed Deer Using Bushes for Cover
Phil Heine
Buck Group Walking and Feeding
Phil Heine
White-tailed Deer Buck Rubbing Antlers on Tree
Phil Heine
White-tailed Deer Bucks Fighting (very long)
Phil Heine
White-tailed Deer Running
Phil Heine
White-tailed Deer Jumping Over Fence
Phil Heine
White-tailed Deer Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:


Red Maple


Red Maple

Asian Tiger Mosquito Pa

White Oak

Red Fox

Common Cattail

Freshwater Leech Pa

Poison Ivy

Bald Eagle

Loblolly Pine

American Dog Tick Pa


American Elm

Black Cherry D

Eastern White Pine

Eastern Redcedar

Poison Ivy D


Silver Maple

Leopard Slug (see Brainworm Nematode)

Witch Hazel


Highbush Blueberry D

Smooth Sumac

Witch Hazel

Evergreen Blackberry D

Meadow Mushroom


Devil's Beggar-tick D

Japanese Honeysuckle

Black Locust

Brainworm Nematode Pa

Black Willow

Yellow Poplar

Eastern Forest Snail (see Brainworm Nematode)


Black Willow

Disc Cannibal Snail (see Brainworm Nematode)

Common Elderberry

Black Oak

Chigger Pa


Bracken Fern

Dung Beetle FP

Long-leaf Pondweed

Smooth Sumac

Flowering Dogwood


American Holly

Common Reed

Bracken Fern


Tussock Sedge

Virginia Pine

Black Locust

Wild Rice

Relationship to Humans:

White-tailed Deer are often hunted and eaten. Deer meat, called "venison," is enjoyed by many people. Deer can be pests when they eat garden plants and ornamental trees, and they cause many accidents on highways. Deer Ticks, which carry Lyme Disease, get their name because they are so often found on deer. Usually, these are very shy animals that avoid people. Recently, the White-tailed Deer population has exploded since developing land and building houses creates many new food sources for deer. Most of the green plants they eat grow on "edges," including yards and along highways. Since deer have few predators in this area, scientists are trying to find new ways to control them.


Odocoileus virginianus


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