Size Matters

This Columbian Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) is one of several that have visited my yard here in the middle of Anacortes, Washington.  They appear to be abundant all over Fidalgo Island.  My previous home on the south shore of the island was literally on a deer trail.  They were daily visitors year-around.  I have now lived in town for three months, and observed the same behavior here.  I recognize three adult does and one young buck along with three fawns from this season.

This mature gentleman that visited yesterday afternoon was new to the yard.  His thick neck and well-developed antlers indicate a male ready for the mating season.  He came out of the woods chasing a doe.  When she eluded him, he spent some time in the lawn appearing befuddled.  He looked around as if trying to decide what to do next.  You will notice something else peculiar about this guy, as I did.

Some kind of net material was firmly tangled in his antlers.  I couldn't tell if it was made of cloth fiber or plastic.  He didn't appear to be in any distress over this.  Instead, he carried it nonchalantly as if nothing at all was wrong.

Antler size is important in the deer family.  Does will prefer to mate with males having the largest (the, um, horniest) antlers.  During the rut, males are known to add vegetation to their antler display.  It is believed this is to make them appear larger.  So, did this buck add the netting material on purpose, or was he inadvertently entangled by it?

Deer are examples of an "edge species."  They like to graze in open areas close to cover where they can make a quick escape.  The urban green belts and community forests of Anacortes apparently provide this favored habitat.  I have discovered one of the town's charming features is the need to share the streets with deer sometimes when driving around.

Adapting to an urban life is not without risks for them.  If this netting becomes caught in a human structure like a chain-link fence or in forest underbrush, it could be fatal for the deer.  Some time after late December he will shed his antlers along with this foreign material.  Let's hope he makes it through the season successfully.