OUTDOORS WILD THINGS

Black-tailed deer easy to spot locally

KIE RELYEAJuly 31, 2007 

  • BLACK-TAILED DEER FACTS

    Scientific name: Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
    Where found: Suburban environments such as greenbelts, parks, golf courses, roadsides
    Places to look: Your backyard, wooded areas near clearings

You don’t have to trek into the woods to see the Columbian black-tailed deer.

Chances are you’ve watched one cross the street from a wooded area or interrupted one in the act of munching on your roses or apples.

Black-tailed deer are found in Western Washington while its look-alike, the mule deer, is found in Eastern Washington, with the Cascades as the dividing line. Other ways to differentiate between the two: black-tailed deer have wider tails that are mainly dark brown or black, while only the tip of mule deer tails are black.

The bodies of both are reddish to golden tan in color during summer and gray in winter. Both have big, erect ears and white coloring on their rumps.

Adult male black-tailed deer weigh up to 200 pounds while the females weigh as much as 130 pounds. The males grow antlers that fork evenly, which they shed each year. The antlers that grow in after that are usually heavier and bigger in diameter, provided the males are getting plenty of nutrients. The bigger the antlers, the more the bucks are sought after by does.

If pursued, the deer will escape in bounding leaps, with all four of their hooves hitting the ground at the same time. Known as “stetting,” this stiff-legged jumping is especially beneficial on uneven terrain.

They munch on a wide variety of greens, such as grass and clover, but their favorites are the tender, growing tips of trees and shrubs. They’ll also eat lichen, fruit, nuts and the stuff in your garden.

They eat like starving teenagers; they barely chew before swallowing. They don’t have to; they’ve got four stomachs to break down food.

The first time through, their food lands in the first stomach, known as the rumen. Then it’s regurgitated, chewed again, swallowed again. It goes to the second stomach, where digestion begins. After that, it heads to the third stomach, then the fourth, before finally going into the intestines.

Talk about processed food.

To learn more about deer and how to grow plants that will keep the munchers out of your yard, go to wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/deer.

Sources: “Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics,” by Stephen R. Whitney and Rob Sandelin; “An Uncommon Field Guide to Northwest Mountains,” by Patricia K. Lichen; The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife article adapted from the book, “Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest,” by Russell Link

Reach Kie Relyea at kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com or 715-2234.

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