White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus borealis

About this pest

KEY CLUES

Distinctive features: Antlers curved forwards (males only). Reddish-brown (summer) or greyish-brown (winter) body and sides, white belly, white throat. White band behind a black muzzle. The tail is red or brown on the top, but white underneath. The tail is flicked up exposing the white underneath as a warning to other deer.

Size: Small- to medium-sized deer. On average, males weight 54 kg and females weigh 40 kg. Males have a average body length of 1.6 m, and females 1.5 m. Shoulder height ranges from 0.5 to 1.2 m.

Droppings: Droppings are found as large groups of pellets. Pellets are round looking, but often more pointed at one end. They will mostly be smaller than red deer droppings (but not reliably so).

Footprints: Two pointed toes, rounded heels. They will mostly be smaller than red deer footprints (but not reliably so).

Kill signs: Not applicable (herbivore).

Vegetation damage: Males rub bark off trees with their antlers. They browse the understorey.

Eye shine: Silver-white.

Distribution: Stewart Island, Lake Wakatipu. Also present in various safari parks around the South Island

WHY ARE WHITE-TAILED DEER PESTS?

Ecological impacts

On Stewart Island there has been concern about modification of the vegetation by white-tailed deer. A 1981 poisoning trial on Stewart Island succeeded in reducing their densities and this was followed by increased recruitment of mutton-bird scrub (Brachyglottis rotundifolia). However, aside from this trial there is little empirical evidence that white-tailed deer have changed the canopy composition of Stewart Island’s forests. White-tailed deer are unlikely to pose any great risk to beech forest regeneration in the Lake Wakatipu area, but their browse on trees and shrubs is noticeable and palatable species such as broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), Pseudopanax spp. and Coprosma spp have become scarce in the understorey.

Other impacts

TBC

Read more about white-tailed deer.


Droppings

Separate

White-tailed deer droppings are usually observed as groups of scattered pellets. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. When they are fresh, they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time they dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. From a distance they look like small balls, but on closer examination they are found to be elongated and more pointed at one end. White-tailed deer droppings look rather like red deer droppings, but the individual pellets are a bit smaller (about 8mm to 16mm in size).

Can be confused with:
White-tailed deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer in areas where their range overlaps.

Clumped

White-tailed deer droppings are usually observed as groups of scattered pellets. Sometimes they adhere to each other forming a larger dropping. When they are fresh they have a moist appearance and are either black or dark brown, but over time they dry out and fade to a dull light brown colour. From a distance they look like small balls, but on closer examination they are found to be elongated and more pointed at one end. White-tailed deer droppings look rather like red deer droppings, but the individual pellets are a bit smaller (about 8mm to 16mm in size).

Can be confused with:
White-tailed deer droppings can be confused with the droppings of other deer in areas where their range overlaps.

Not the droppings you were looking for?

Have a look at all our droppings clues.

Footprints and Tracks

Hooves

Like all other species of deer, white-tailed deer have hooves that are cloven into two toes (or cleaves). Dew claws, small claw like digits, are positioned slightly higher up the leg and to the rear of the hoof. The average length of stag hooves is 465mm
White-tailed deer footprints are often seen in muddy patches of forest, and in sand. They characteristically show two pointed toes, although on harder ground a poorly defined heel is sometimes all that is obvious. If the ground is very soft, or the deer has been moving quickly, the toes may become splayed and impressions of the dew claws may be visible.

Can be confused with:
The average size of an adult white-tailed deer footprint will be smaller than that of a red deer, but larger than that of a fallow deer (but not always reliably so). They can also be confused with the footprints of other deer species, goats, sheep and pigs. Deer footprints tend to be narrower than those left by cows or pigs.

Trails and Runs

White-tailed deer repeatedly use the same tracks and trails through the forest and these can become well worn. If trails are recently used, fresh droppings and hoof-prints will be seen along them.

Can be confused with:
White-tailed deer trails can be confused with red deer and fallow deer trails where these species have overlapping distributions.

Wallows

White-tailed deer do not necessarily create the large wallows that red deer do. However, during the breeding season ‘rut’ (April–May) they create scrapes to help mark their territory. The male makes a scrape by using its front hooves to expose bare earth. These scrapes are often associated with thrashing and rubbing on trees and shrubs.

Can be confused with:
The rutting and wallow making behaviour of white-tailed deer is similar to that of other deer species.

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Have a look at all of our tracks.

Vegetation Damage

Understorey (less than 3m)

In the Lake Wakatipu area, the effects of white-tailed deer browsing are noticeable on trees and shrubs. Palatable species such as broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), Pseudopanax spp. and Coprosma spp. are scarce. On the northern and eastern coasts of Stewart Island, broadleaf and the leaves, stems and fruit of supplejack (Ripogonum scandens) comprised >50% of white-tailed deer diet. Many other species were eaten in small quantities.

Can be confused with:
White-tailed deer browse can be confused with the browse of other deer species, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs.

Bark

During the breeding season, male white-tailed deer (stags) rub and thrash small trees to mark their territory. They use their antlers to strip the bark off small diameter trees. Sometimes this ring barks the tree, killing it.

Can be confused with:
Bark rubbing by white-tailed deer can be confused with that done by other species of deer, and with hide rubbing by pigs. The height of the rubbing, and any fur left behind, might help distinguish which species is responsible.

Plant leaves

When white-tailed deer have been browsing leaves, several of the leaves will be removed from the stem, and some remaining leaves will have been bitten in half.

Can be confused with:
White-tailed deer browse is difficult to distinguish from the browse of other deer species, goat, and sheep. Often the best way of determining which species has been browsing leaves in an area is through a process of elimination i.e. by determining which species inhabit the area, and looking for footprints and droppings.

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Kill Sign

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Have a look at all our kill signs.

Other Clues

Smell

During the rut, male white-tailed deer sometimes undertake scent marking in areas where they have been bark rubbing or creating scrapes. This can leave a musky smell.

Can be confused with:
The smell of white-tailed deer can be confused with the smell of other deer species and pigs.

Sound

When scared, white-tailed deer may make a loud snorting sound before fleeing.

Can be confused with:
The sounds made by white-tailed deer can be confused with those made by other deer species.

Body covering

Sometimes hair may get left behind when a stag has been rubbing and thrashing trees and when they rub against trees to remove moulting hair.

Can be confused with:
The hair of other deer species may be confused with white-tailed deer hair.

Eye shine

Silver-white. See photograph taken in Arizona.

Distribution

In New Zealand, white-tailed deer are found in two main locations: 1) Stewart Island; 2) a 350 km2 area at the head of Lake Wakatipu which includes the lower sections of the Rees River and Dart River valleys. White-tailed deer are also present in safari parks in the South Island. At least one park has had escapes, which resulted in a wild population establishing at Mt Hutt, although this eventually failed (either by natural death or by being shot).

Other

Antlers cast by stags are often a reliable way to distinguish between deer species. With white-tailed deer, cast antlers have a unique forward-curve.

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MORE ABOUT WHITE-TAILED DEER

Origin

White-tailed deer are native to North America, Central America and northern South America with over 30 subspecies identified. The subspecies introduced to New Zealand originates from north-eastern USA and eastern Canada.

Description

White-tailed deer are a mid-sized deer. They have a reddish-brown body and sides, with a white belly and white throat. The white belly and tail are quite distinctive. The tail is red or brown on the top, but white underneath. The tail is flicked up exposing the white underneath as a warning to other deer.

Colouring varies little with sex and age, although calves under 3–4 months of age will have white spots. Males (stags) have antlers; females (hinds) do not. Antlers are round and sweep forward supporting unbranched tines. Yearling males have spikes, while two year olds have around four points, and mature animals can have eight or more points.

Size and weight

Small- to medium-sized deer. On average, males weigh 54 kg and females weigh 40 kg. Males have a body length of 1.6m, and females 1.5m. Shoulder height of white-tailed deer varies between 0.53–1.20m.

Behaviour

Female white-tailed deer and their offspring live in small family groups, while the males live separately. Young males leave these family groups when they are 1–3 years of age. White-tailed deer are very cautious and if disturbed will try to sneak away quietly. Their breeding season starts in late April and continues until the end of May. During the breeding season, adult males do not roar or groan like red and fallow stags do. Male white-tailed deer follow females around, searching for those that are receptive, rather than herding them into harems or trying to attract them like red and fallow stags.

Diet

White-tailed deer are primarily browsers, and cannot rely solely on grass like other deer species can. On the northern and eastern coasts of Stewart Island, over 50% of white-tailed deer annual diet was either broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis) or the leaves, stems and fruit of supplejack (Ripogonum scandens). Much of this was obtained as litter fall. The remainder of their diet was leaves and stems of other trees and shrubs, a selection of ferns, grasses, sedges, herbs and seaweed.

Habitat

On Stewart Island white-tailed deer inhabit coastal and lowland mixed-podocarp-hardwood forests. Most white-tailed deer on Stewart Island are found below 30 m a.s.l. and they are scarce above 300 m a.s.l. The Lake Wakatipu herd occupies beech, Hall's totara, and southern rata forest below 600 m a.s.l., as well as open tussock faces with subalpine scrub dominated by bluff systems and adjacent stretches of clear river flats containing a mixture of tussock and introduced grasses.

Distribution in New Zealand

See distribution clue.

How to get rid of white-tailed deer

Contact your local DOC or Regional Council office for advice (see Next Steps). Intensive professional hunting (culling) can remove large numbers of white-tailed deer. However, recreational hunting is thought to have little impact on their numbers. As with other species of deer, white-tailed deer can be very susceptible to incidental by-kill from aerial 1080 drops targeting possums and rabbits. However, with the exception of 10% 1080 foliage gel, no other poisons are currently registered for use on deer in New Zealand.


FIND MORE INFORMATION IN:

Nugent, G. (2005). White-tailed deer. In King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 460-465). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Fraser W., & Nugent, G. (2005). Sambar deer. King, C.M., (Ed.), The handbook of New Zealand mammals (pp. 436-442). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.