Deer in Our Community
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the most common species of deer currently found in North Carolina. Male deer, or ‘Bucks’, are easily recognizable in the summer and fall by their prominent set of antlers, which are grown annually and fall off in the winter. Female deer, or ‘Does’, give birth to one to three young at a time, usually in May or June and after a gestation period of seven months. Young deer, or “Fawns", have a reddish-brown coat with white spots that helps them blend in with the forest.
White-tailed deer are common in both urban and rural areas, as they have adapted well to live in close proximity to humans. Deer inhabit around the edges of creeks and rivers, forested areas, croplands, and urban green areas. Deer can prosper following a prescribed fire, timber harvest, or other disturbances which produce new vegetative growth around the ground level. Although wild deer can live up to 16 years, the average lifespan of deer is 2-3 years, and they rarely live past 10 years. According to NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Orange County is home to more than 50 deer per square mile (source: Deer Density map).
The Carrboro Town Council accepted the Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) in 2017 to expand the Town’s existing climate action efforts and emphasize measures that community members can implement to help achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The plan’s goal is to raise the community’s awareness and involvement in climate action and the enhancement of ecosystem resilience. Ecosystem Recommendation #2 in the plan proposes that the Town evaluate the extent to which the deer population and climate change affect native plant ecosystems.
Potential Impacts to Native Plant Ecosystems
With reduced populations of predators such as wolves and mountain lions, white-tailed deer populations in North Carolina can become overabundant. Deer, as ruminant herbivores, devote a significant portion of their lives to foraging. Overgrazing by deer along with selective browsing of tree species has the potential to adversely affect the health of forests, leading to decreased plant diversity and hindered forest regeneration. It can also potentially aid in the spread of non-native, invasive species, with cascading effects on various wildlife species that rely on these plant communities. This complex interplay of factors underscores the need for a more comprehensive understanding of baseline conditions and the ecosystem impacts of climate change and herbivory.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is actively engaged in a collaborative research effort with N.C. State University and other partners. Their project, known as the Triangle Urban Deer Study, focuses on researching wild deer ecology across urban and rural portions of Durham and Orange Counties. This four-year initiative explores a wide range of deer ecology factors, including deer mortality, deer abundance, and human perceptions of deer. The Triangle Urban Deer Study aims to advance the agency's understanding of deer ecology in North Carolina and improve future deer management decisions across an urban to rural gradient. For more information about this ongoing study, you can visit this link.
Deer populations are increasingly adapting to live in human-developed landscapes, which can impact gardens and other urban green spaces. There are several different methods you can use to prevent deer damage to plants.
a. Physical Barriers: Install sturdy fencing or netting around your garden to keep deer at bay. Make sure the fencing is tall enough (at least 8 feet) and buried to prevent deer from crawling underneath.
b. Repellants: You can purchase or make repellents at home with substances that emit scents or tastes that deer find unpleasant, such as peppermint or lavender. Spray these scents to discourage deer from entering your garden.
c. Strategic Placement and Plant Selection: Try opting for native plants that deer tend to avoid (e.g., thorny plants like American holly), plants with pungent scents such as herbs, or latex-producing plants (e.g., Milkweed).*
d. Monitor and Protect Susceptible Plants: For plants that are particularly susceptible to deer damage, consider planting them closer to your house or in areas where they can be closely monitored and protected.
*For more information about deer-resistant plants and choosing the right species for your garden, you can consult the NC State Cooperative Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, Deer Resistant Plants, and Reducing Deer Damage in the Landscape.
Why it is Important Not to Feed Deer
While it may seem like a kind gesture to feed deer, feeding these animals, particularly in urban or suburban areas, can have negative consequences for both the deer population and your community. This section highlights the reasons why it's crucial to avoid feeding deer.
Feeding wild animals can have detrimental effects on both animal populations and human communities. Here are some examples of the risks and consequences associated with feeding deer:
1. Disrupting Natural Feeding Behavior and Promoting Dependency: Feeding deer can alter their natural feeding patterns, leading to malnutrition.
2. Increased Disease Risk: Feeding stations can attract not only deer but also other wildlife species, increasing the likelihood of disease transmission.
3. Neighborhood Nuisance: A congregation of deer can become a nuisance for neighbors, causing damage to property and gardens. Moreover, heightened deer activity in residential areas can lead to more frequent vehicle collisions.
In some areas, including Carrboro, feeding or attracting deer is prohibited by local ordinances. These regulations are in place to protect both the deer population and the well-being of the community. Specifically, within the Carrboro City Limits, the feeding or attracting of deer is prohibited. This important measure helps safeguard the local ecosystem and prevent potential issues associated with deer feeding.
For more information on these regulations, you can refer to Chapter 10 of the Carrboro Town Code: Carrboro Town Code - Chapter 10 (PDF)
Deer-related accidents on the road can pose significant risks to both drivers and the deer population. While some of these incidents are unavoidable, there are proactive steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of colliding with deer while driving. This section provides guidance on how to steer clear of deer collisions.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission acknowledges the issue of deer-related accidents in our state. As human and deer populations continue to grow, these accidents may become more frequent. However, through careful driving habits and awareness, you can help reduce the risk.
Deer are most active during dawn and dusk, as well as on dark, overcast, or foggy nights. To minimize the risk of collisions, consider reducing speed during peak deer activity times, especially in areas known for deer presence. Slowing down gives you more time to react if a deer suddenly appears. It's important to note that most accidents happen in the fall, especially in November. According to Town of Carrboro Police in 2022, there were a total of 20 car-deer collisions, with 7 of them occurring in November alone, accounting for 35% of all collisions during the year.
Proper lighting is crucial when driving in areas prone to deer crossings. Whenever possible, drive with your headlights on high beam. This increases your visibility and helps you spot deer more quickly, particularly when their eyes reflect light. Pay special attention to field edges and posted deer crossing areas.
Deer often travels in groups, so if you see one crossing the road, assume others will follow. Always be vigilant and prepared for additional deer crossing behind the first one. If you spot a deer, even if it's some distance from the road, immediately reduce your speed. Deer can panic and dart onto the road unexpectedly when exposed to bright headlights.
It's essential to exercise caution when considering the use of deer whistles or other "ultra-sonic" devices that claim to prevent deer collisions. Per the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these devices.
- What to Do If You Encounter A Distressed or Orphaned Deer
- Finding an Orphaned Fawn
- Understanding the Doe's Behavior
- Reporting Injured or Orphaned Wildlife
Encountering an injured or orphaned deer can be a sensitive situation, and it's crucial to know how to respond appropriately. This section provides guidance on how to handle such situations, emphasizing the importance of responsible and compassionate actions.
If you come across a fawn, remember that these seemingly- abandoned animals are often not truly alone. Whitetail deer are considered a “hider" species, meaning that the mother hides her fawn in dense vegetation while she goes off to feed. Be sure to avoid feeding, moving, or touching the fawn if you come across one.
The doe (female deer) will return to the fawn multiple times each day to nurse and groom it. She typically stays only briefly before leaving again to forage for food. Fawns are naturally well-camouflaged and lack a strong scent, making them less detectable by predators. Additionally, young fawns can quickly outrun a human by the time they are five days old.
If you encounter injured or orphaned wildlife, including deer, and are unsure of how to proceed, you can seek assistance through the following resources:
-North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission: to report injured wildlife or to access other related resource information
-Orange County Injured and Orphaned Wildlife page offers information on dealing with injured or orphaned wildlife
- For more specific assistance and local wildlife rehabilitation services, contact the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission at 888-248-6834
-For injured deer or black bears, contact the Wildlife Enforcement Division at 800-662-7137 or 919-707-0040 for immediate assistance