Last week during our fist substantial snow fall of the winter, I was reminded of the impact this weather causes not only to humans but to wildlife as well.
I spent one snowy day watching helplessly as a young deer paced lethargically in a circular pattern for hours on end in the middle of a local golf course.
Several residents who were also watching called me for any advice I could offer to help her plight. Unfortunately, although MARS (Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society) does rescue injured or orphaned fawns, we do not have the resources or facilities to look after adult deer, a question we are often asked.
Winter is a vulnerable time for all wildlife, but in snow and freezing temperatures, herbivores, such as deer, have a tough time finding enough vegetation to forage on. Trees are devoid of leaves, plants, bushes and grass are hidden and frozen under the snow.
Winter is also a time when the deer herd together in larger groups and, as a result, bacterial diseases are often passed amongst the population through feces or contaminated grass.
Vancouver Island is home to the black tailed deer, other species not found on the Island are the white tailed and mule deer.
Black tailed deer have two colour phases. In summer their coats are reddish brown from above with white bellies. Late fall sees them grow their thick grey winter coat that camouflages them perfectly against the drab winter vegetation.
As their name suggests, the bottom two-thirds of their tail is black and the underside is white; the tail is flicked to alert other deer to impending danger.
Fawns are unmistakable in the brown and white spotted coats which disappear after the first winter. Young males grow small antlers in the spring that are shed in mid-winter and replaced each year. The antlers are covered in a velvety coat that is sloughed off and the hanging velvet is often mistaken for a broken antler.
Deer have a wide variety of favourite food including flowers, shrubs, trees and bushes and even bulbs which they pull up only to spit out if they are not to their liking.
To deer-proof your garden the only lasting deterrent is a fence that is over six feet. These animals are amazingly nimble in their ability not only to jump but they can squeeze themselves through narrow horizontal fencing.
It may surprise you to know that deer are also very accomplished swimmers. I was aboard a ferry that waited for a stag to swim across Departure Bay in Nanaimo before it could set sail.
In many Vancouver Island communities deer are becoming a “nuisance” often showing aggression to humans or pets. However, sadly, humans are causing most of these problems.
Many urban areas are expanding especially in the Comox valley and Campbell River. In Courtenay the new development around Crown Isle has removed yet more deer habitat forcing them into smaller safe areas, most of the local golf courses have become sanctuaries providing shelter and a wonderful smorgasbord of food.
However, this also creates a new set of problems for the deer as the herds start to interbreed and deficiencies and diseases, especially intestinal parasites, pass freely amongst them.
Unfortunately this was probably what caused the deer I observed to become weakened from diarrhea and dehydration. Calls were made to the Conservation Office and although they also have a policy of not intervening with a “mobile” deer, they did see that this deer was suffering and it was taken care of later in the evening.
We are always getting calls on what to do with a deceased deer in a backyard or that was hit on a road. Unfortunately if it is on your property the home owner is responsible for its disposal; road kill will be removed by Emcon. Please call your local waste management for further advice.
Do not try to approach a deer that is displaying unusual behaviour as they can react with a last rush of adrenaline lashing out with their hooves.
MARS continues to receive more eagles and we thank all those who have contributed to their care. The Whistle Stop Pub in Courtenay is hosting a fundraising night for the society this Saturday January. You are invited to a fun time.
For more information visit our website at www.wingtips.org. To report injured wildlife call toll free 1-800-304-9968, for all other info call 250-337-2021.