Monday, September 8, 2008

Continued...Why is there a fawn in my yard? Or where you are born and biology.

PART II Why she chose my yard might also have to do with who she is. Whitetail deer sexually segregate. Does live in matriarchal kin groups (the merry band of sisters) that spend their lives on undefended ancestral home ranges. A matriarchal society may have fawns, daughters, mothers, and may be even grandmothers or great grandmothers. Does with some experience may disperse a short distance away expanding the ancestral range. I suspect there can be several sub-kinship groups occupying roughly the same home range. Ozoga refers to the kin groups as matriarchal societies, which may not be quite the correct terminology from the behavioral biology use of the term, but society, in its common usage, is a very apt descriptive term for these groups. Bucks group in fraternal societies mostly of unrelated bucks with group membership being quite fluid. Does establish their fawning grounds within the larger ancestral range. Social status of a doe within a society, in large part, is determined by her breeding success. The matriarchs are experienced, mature, dominant does who are six years old (or more), probably great grandmothers, and kin group leaders and, are the ones who secure the best fawning ground. A doe new to motherhood will more likely get a less than optimal fawning ground (often next to her mother’s fawning ground). More than likely a young doe will not return to her first fawning ground for her second pregnancy. Senior does may lose their dominance rank in the hierarchy and may have to find new, less than optimal, fawning grounds. Young does generally only fawn a singleton for their first pregnancy. Similarly, very old does may only birth singletons like youthful dewy-eyed does. There has been a severe drought for over a year now and poor environmental conditions due to the drought could cause otherwise healthy mature does to give birth to singletons instead of twins. Both first-time breeding does and senior does will fawn in the later part of the birthing season being later by a few days, even weeks. Young does are inexperienced and less attentive than older does. So who is Apple’s mommy? She is most likely not an established matriarch, although possible a matriarch might have a singleton after a hard droughty winter, she probably would not have chosen my yard (despite the amenities like duck food it is probably not the luxury suite of fawning grounds). She is probably very young or very old since she gave birth to a singleton on less than stellar fawning grounds and that the birth was a few days after the end of the prime birth season.

But which one: young or old? She sticks close to Apple, which may indicate she is older. She seems very worldly-her sneaking skills are very good-almost silent. She also learns very fast; she has learned very quickly that I am not a threat and she no longer bolts away from me when I get to close she just sneaks off nearby. She is very skillful in getting the bird feed out of the little holes in the feeder. She will walk into a semi-enclosed space for yummy begonias. All those skills seem to me to be indicative of an older doe.

After Apple entered into his transitional phase like clockwork he started becoming more active using about two-thirds of the edge natal grounds. Apple on Thursday (9/4/08) for the first time ventured to the east side of the dock; he squirted under the dock (because of the drought most of the dock is out of the water) probably in a crouch judging from his tracks. With that adventure, he has now explored about three-quarters of the cover area. He has yet to explore the yard outside of the scrub/tree margin; I expect that will start next week or later when he starts following his mommy more. At eighteen days old he could pretty much out run any predator for a short distance if the need arose. He should have started nibbling some foliage, still; he will not be able to survive without his mother’s milk. He will start becoming active at night some now, and in a few days he should be come more active in general. This is the time that he should start interacting and bedding with a sibling. I still have not seen a sibling; I cannot believe that there are two in that small an area of cover, and that I have not found it yet. Of course, the twin could be very shy and good at hiding. There could be possibly be a twin at the end of the lake across the road in the pine thicket, but as mommy spends all day near Apple, and it would require her to be exposed for part of the way on feeding trips, I doubt there is a twin farther away. As for Apple being a he…well I do not know. If his mother is young or old statistically then the odds are on Apple being male.

How much longer will he be in the yard? I am not sure, but my best guess is they will leave when he is eight weeks or so. Although his mother could move him somewhere else at anytime if she feels threaten or the food situation degenerates, she will probably not move the youngster unless the situation warrants it. She might relocate him if he explores too far beyond the safety of cover. Apple will start following his mommy about some in a few days when he turns four weeks old, but he probably will not follow her around a significant amount of the time until he is at least eight weeks when he will start to travel and also to bed with her. That seems like a natural time to expand his range and for them to leave the yard. Time will tell…

Check out online: A brief natural history of Alabama whitetail deer.

A not so brief book, Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer in Alabama by Chris Cook and Bill Gray of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (beware this is a large pdf file-not for the light hearted if you have dial-up).

Check out on the bookshelf:

Deer specifically:

Seasons of the Whitetail a four book series: Whitetail Autumn, Whitetail Winter, Whitetail Spring, and Whitetail Summer by John J. Ozoga, Willow Creek Press (1997)- Contains a lot of scientific research made readable for science and non science types.

Mammals in-general:

The Wild Mammals of Missouri by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz (the Missouri Conservation Department Gods!!!), University of Missouri Press (2001). A terrific guide (not pocket sized) to mammals and pertinent beyond Missouri-for much of the Midwest and eastern US. The drawings of paws are very nice for trackers as they are exquisitely rendered and lacks the problem that some photos can have of lighting, fur in the way, and photos of preserved or dead specimens in questionable conditions. Life histories of the animals are given beyond the couple of paragraphs of most guides. It contains skull drawings, dental formulas, and pertinent natural history information. I love this book.

Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Economics edited by JA Chapman and GA Feldhamer, Johs Hopkins University Press 1982. I would describe this book as a science encyclopedia. The book offers concise scientific literature reviews describing as the subtitle states- biology, management, and economics of each species. This book is more appropriate for science types, but a great entry into the world of science lit for non science types.

© Pam Croom 2008

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