Falling into the rut

Falling into the rut

by Jen Blythe

It’s that time of year!

While we’ve all enjoyed the brisk, sunny transition to fall, the shorter, darker, days are here, and so is the rain.  A reminder to not let the fall weather bring the ‘perfect storm’ for deer or you!

Some strategies for reducing collisions during wet, dark fall days:

Whether you’re commuting by car, bike, scooter or skateboard, an earlier dawn and later dusk means you will be on the road at the same time that deer are also more active. At the same time, younger deer may lack the “street sense” of the older does and bucks, so whether they’re simply unaware or get spooked by a dog or car, for example, deer can bolt from bushes, gardens or between parked cars … and right into traffic.

Add to that the slick streets, the glare from headlights and busier roadways as we head to work, school and activities, and you have a “perfect storm” for both deer and travellers to navigate.

To help avoid collisions with deer (and other road users):

  • Slow down and scan ahead – Especially important in areas deer are known to frequent, but good practice wherever you’re driving as children, dogs, deer and others can appear quickly and without warning. You would slow down if you saw children at the side of the road right?  Doing the same for deer and any wildlife will help reduce collisions.
  • Anticipate deer and give them space – Deer rarely travel alone, so if you see one, others will typically follow. Give them time and space to pass safely.
  • Drive defensively – deer rarely jump out in front of a car unless they’re spooked. If you drive defensively you will likely see deer at the side of the road “thinking” about crossing, giving you time to slow down as you would in a school zone.  However, if a collision with wildlife seems imminent, avoid swerving, as this can cause more damage and personal injury. Instead, remove your foot from the accelerator and brake lightly, keeping the vehicle straight.

At the same time…

If dark days and rain weren’t enough, further adding to the fall and winter mix is rutting season, which typically begins at the end of October and goes through November. As bucks become single-minded in their purpose, they can easily follow the scent of a doe … right into the road.

You might also see bucks tangling with trees, poles or anything else they can practice their bravado on, and later engaging in tussles with other bucks as they strut their stuff for the does. While it may appear aggressive, in fact, it’s just bucks being bucks and they typically have little interest in us or anything else. 

As always, leave an escape route for deer that’s far away from yourself. Because dogs – no matter their size – are perceived as a threat, always check your yard carefully for deer before letting your dog out, and when walking, keep them leashed. If you encounter a deer, shorten the lead, stop your dog barking if possible, and back away to give deer more distance.

Cats on the prowl

Cats on the prowl

Have you heard more about cougars on Vancouver Island over the last few weeks? Farmers in the province have reported losing dozens of lambs in the past two months. Our lead researcher on the deer project, Dr. Jason Fisher was interviewed on CBC Radio’s “All Points West” to talk about the BC Conservation Officer Service’s suggested mitigation strategies for preventing cougar attacks. Find out more at https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-93-all-points-west/clip/15987718-farmers-report-increase-cougar-attacks-livestock

Photo (right): Pixabay 

Abnormal antler growth

Abnormal antler growth

Photo from Vancouver Island Free Daily: Oak Bay resident Doug Clarke posted a photo of a male deer with a growth at the bottom of its left antler, taken on May 22 in the Rockland neighbourhood. (Courtesy of Doug Clarke/Facebook)

Friends on the Oak Bay Local Facebook group may have seen the photo (left) of this buck with abnormal antler growth. Our wildlife veterinarian Adam Hering spoke to Vancouver Island Free Daily, noting that it’s likely due to an injury rather than an infection. Read the full story at https://www.vancouverislandfreedaily.com/news/abnormal-growth-on-oak-bay-deer-likely-caused-by-injury/

Are those collars too tight?

Are those collars too tight?

A big thank you to Dr. Adam Hering and team of volunteers who have just finished a month of collar and welfare checks for the does in the Oak Bay Urban Deer Research Project.

Through the winter we sometimes hear from concerned community members about collars on does that appear too tight. We are very grateful for all reports and take all concerns very seriously however, as Dr. Hering explains, there are many situations when collars look concerning from a distance but once he is close, or is able to immobilize the doe, he is able to determine that the collars are not actually problematic.

Dr. Hering has kindly provided information and a video (to the right) on how collars fit and why they can appear to be too tight:

It can in fact be quite difficult to truly assess how tight a collar is until I have my hands on the doe and fingers under the collar. In the years we’ve been doing these collar checks I have elected to remove 3 collars due to concerns about how tight they looked. In all 3 cases, after having my hands on the animal I decided that the collar was unlikely to be causing any distress to them but I chose to remove the collars as I could see why, from a distance, they could appear concerning. One doe did have a bit of moisture dermatitis on her skin under the collar and so I was happy I took it off and am always more than happy to take off others or replace them with looser fitting collars if I am concerned. It’s always a balance between making it tight enough that it doesn’t get caught on things or get feet caught under it when they scratch their neck and ears with a hind hoof and making it loose enough to not cause distress.

When I fit collars I take neck circumference measurements. Having done this over multiple years, on animals of all ages and throughout the seasons, I have found that the neck circumference only varies by a few cm once a female Columbian Blacktail deer reaches physical maturity. That’s based on the ~250 black tail deer I have captured throughout the Oak Bay and Esquimalt immuno-contraception (IC) programs.

What happens is that the does thicker winter coat grows in and makes the collar look tighter than it is. It can also happen that the collar may get pushed down the neck a bit when walking through shrubs, to a spot on the neck where the neck circumference is slightly greater (their neck is conical in shape) and the directionality of the hair on their neck prevents it from sliding back up where it was originally installed. They can, however, scratch their neck with their hind hooves and can sometimes slide it up that way.

I also get notified by Oak Bay Public Works any time one of our marked does die. I check them all and do post mortem exams on most that die without obvious evidence of vehicular trauma. I have yet to see an animal with a collar that has given me true cause for concern that it was impacting their wellbeing but I’m always on the lookout for it. I hate the idea that something I’ve done could be causing undue distress to one of the deer.

Doe #30 was one doe that a community member expressed concern about a too tight collar. Despite our time in the field in March, we didn’t manage to locate her, likely because there’s been construction in the area she was first tagged which may have caused her to move on from that location. Doe #30 was first captured in September 2019, when she was given her first round of IC and fitted with a collar. I estimated her to be a mature deer of 3.5 years of age at the time, and I have given her 2 booster vaccines since then with the most recent one being in fall of 2021, and I was not concerned at those times that her collar was causing her any issues.

This season I’ve completed the allotted time (based on provincial permits) in the field looking at deer and evaluating for any with concerningly tight fitting collars. I did elect to take the collar off of #3 and replaced it with large white ear tags with the number 3 on them so that she can still be identified if seen on one of the wildlife cameras – this is important for the research. On this individual, after having my hands on her it was my opinion that her collar was not problematically tight but it had caused a bit of minor hair loss/chafing which I think is a bit inevitable with collars. But given the opportunity, I elected to remove it given the number of concerned messages we’ve gotten.

In all other instances, I felt comfortable with the collars I saw and didn’t feel that any of them justified repeated capture to verify that they were fitting ok, therefore no other captures were performed.

Here is a link to a video that I took of one of the animals who is wearing a GPS collar. The collar in the video is fit on her neck similarly to the rest of them however it looks less tight because the weight of the GPS has caused the collar to slide around a little bit resulting in some hair loss – therefore you can see how tight the collar actually is against her neck without the surrounding hair obscuring the view.

Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to share your concerns – we follow up on every doe that is reported and we appreciate that the welfare of the deer is important to you as well as us!

Love is in the Air: Hormones drive bachelor bucks to distraction

Love is in the Air: Hormones drive bachelor bucks to distraction

Buck behaviour during rutting season can seem unusual, but they’re really just single-minded as they follow the scent toward a doe. Jen Blyth / Black Press Media photo

(article and photo reproduced with permission)

You’re likely accustomed to seeing does strolling the neighbourhood with their offspring in tow, but it’s the bachelor bucks who come into focus this time of year.

And in focus for the bucks – or at least the focal point of their attentions – is their female counterpart.

Yes, along with cooler temperatures and falling leaves, November brings the free-flowing hormones of rutting season.

You may have already seen the viral video of a pair of Oak Bay bucks squaring off in a burst of bravado, going antler to antler in a bid to win the (ahem) heart of local does.

But rest assured, while dramatic, the deer really only have eyes – and sniffers – for each other.

So, what does this mean for us as we go about our less amorous business?

Here are a few timely reminders:

  • Distracted by love – Buck behaviour during rutting season can seem unusual, but they’re really just single-minded as they follow the scent toward a doe. That DOES mean they can run out into the road, without noticing an approaching bike or vehicle. It’s important for drivers, cyclists and others to pay extra attention, especially around dawn and dusk, when deer tend to be more active.
  • When driving, watch the roadside – Drive as though you were in a playground or school zone; pay extra attention and reduce speed, especially when driving in unfamiliar areas at dawn and dusk. Scan ahead, looking for movement or shining eyes at the roadside.
  • When cycling, give yourself time and space – Take plenty of room so you can react to any unpredictable movement. If it’s safe to do so, pull out from the curb and give the deer a wide berth. Slow down, and just like a driver, scan ahead, looking for movement.
  • When walking, keep your distance – While bucks are only interested in other deer, it’s best to keep your distance as you would with any wildlife.Because a deer’s natural response to danger is to run, always leave it an escape route away from yourself.
  • When with dogs, keep them close and calm – No matter their size, dogs are perceived by deer as a potential threat. Always check your yard carefully for deer before letting your dog out. When walking, keep dogs on a leash and if you encounter a deer, keep your dog pulled in close to you, stop it barking if possible, and walk away from the deer.

Visit UWSS.ca for more information about avoiding collisions with deer and other deer behaviour tips. Learn more about the Township of Esquimalt’s deer management efforts here.