By Jen Mannas, PAWS Naturalist
The beginning of November marks one of the biggest releases of the year at PAWS Wildlife Center, our Black-tailed deer release.
This year we cared for five deer throughout the spring and summer who all came to us in May as spotted fawns (pictured below, with ear tags used to identify individuals). These youngsters were all assumed to be orphaned as some were seen alone for more than 24 hours and others were found standing near their deceased mother or sibling.
Columbian Black-tailed deer are classified as a subspecies of the mule deer; their range is from southern Canada to central California and are found along the Pacific coast east to the Cascades.
They are the most common deer subspecies in Washington and are very similar in appearance to Rocky Mountain mule deer. However, black-tailed deer are smaller and have a broader tail that is completely covered with black hairs.
They are very adaptable and can live in a variety of habitats. Their main food source is browse (the growing tips of trees and shrubs) but they also eat fruit, nuts, acorns, fungi, and lichens.
Black-tailed deer are even adaptable in how they evade predators and have evolved several tactics in addition to hiding.
Their large ears and excellent vision help them detect danger from up to 1800 feet away. They will either leave the area before the predator gets too close or try to outmaneuver it. They do so by effectively using characteristics of the terrain such as boulders, steep slopes, ledges, trees, and deadfall to place obstacles between them and their predator.
They will also erratically change direction when being perused and they may even release a scent that alarms others triggering a group formation for protection.
Black-tailed deer breed during the fall and give birth in mid to late spring. During their first few weeks of life the fawns will be left alone for extended periods of time while their mother forages.
While alone the fawns lay flat and motionless, in a bed of grass, and their white spots camouflage them from predators. As they become stronger they feed alongside mom and are no longer dependent on her by the end of the summer.
While the deer are at PAWS our rehabilitators work very hard to raise them so that they don't become habituated. They do so by limiting all human contact to a minimum.
They have a specialized way to feed the deer formula, they spend many hours throughout the summer collecting and delivering browse, and making sure their enclosure is cleaned without direct contact with the fawns.
This takes a lot of hard work and seeing the deer released is a very meaningful event.
On November 6th the five deer they'd cared for all summer were released on large tracts of land far from people.
Our staff and volunteers looked on as the deer explored their new habitat and made their way deeper into the forest.
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