Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

White-Tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus


The appearance of the whitetail deer can be different based on season, region, subspecies, and locally. In the winter this species appears to have a grayer fur coat in comparison to its reddish hue in the summer. The purpose of this difference is to better camouflage into their changing surroundings. Whitetail deer have a band of white fur behind the nose, encircling the eyes, inside the ears, over the chin and throat, upper/insides of the legs and beneath the tail. This species has hooves on all four feet. Males start to grow velvet covered antlers in April or May, in August or September the layer of velvet is rubbed off revealing bone-like antlers and then from January to March these antlers are shed.


Whitetail deer can be found mostly east of the Rocky Mountains, in various habitats such as forests, swamps, farmlands, and cactus and thorn bush deserts. They prefer habitats with dense thickets to hide. The home range of this species is about a square kilometer or less.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

Whitetail deer are crepuscular herbivores, consuming vegetation before dawn until several hours after and again from late afternoon until dusk. Northern populations forage to consume vegetation such as buds, twigs of maple, sassafras, poplar, aspen and birch, as well as many shrubs. Desert populations consume juajillo pbrush, yucca, prickly pear cactus, and ratama. In winter when shrubs are scarce conifers are consumed.


Mating season or “rut” occurs from October to December. Male whitetail deer are polygamous (having multiple females) and may stay with a single doe for several days or weeks. Female (doe) whitetail deer are polyestrous, meaning they can come into estrous multiple times within the year. In November, doe’s have a 24 hour period of estrous and if they do not mate with a buck they will have a second estrous 28 days later. 6.5 months after mating the female gives birth to 1or 2 young that are able to walk at birth. The young of whitetail deer are known as “fawns”, these newborns have white spots on their backs, and these spots are kept until their first winter. Within a few days of birth fawns are able to nibble on vegetation but are still nursed until they are 8-10 weeks old. Young males leave their mothers after one year but young females often stay with their mother for two years. Males reach sexual maturity after their first 2 years while females reach sexual maturity after their first 7 months

Months and Times of Activity

Whitetail deer do not migrate. They continuously use the same pathways while foraging for food. Whitetail deer rest or “bed down” during the day, they will choose a different place than the previous day.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Whitetail deer have different scent glands used for communication. There are scent glands on all four feet between the two halves of their hooves, metatarsal glands on the outside of each hind leg and a larger tarsal gland on the inside of each hind leg at the hock. The scents from these glands become very strong during rutting (mating) season.
•    Many people find fawns alone and believe them to be abandoned, but they are not, mother whitetail deer leave their offspring in a hiding place until they return from looking for food.
•    Whitetail deer raise their tail, exposing the bright white fur on the underside, as a warning flag to others when danger is near.
•    To read Native American legends featuring this animal go to:
•    Children’s book featuring this species: Spike The Story of a Whitetail Deer by Robert M. McClung


Dewey, T. and . 2003. "Odocoileus virginianus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at