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Species Description

White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus


Species Image

Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Cervidae

Description

The body color is reddish brown in summer and grayish brown in winter. The belly, chest, throat, chin, and the inside of the back legs are white. The tail is brown above and white below, hence the name. This is the smallest member of the deer family in North America. Depending on geographic location, the White-tailed Deer ranges in size from 1.3 - 2.1 m (4.3 - 6.9 ft) in total length and weighs from 40 - 125 kg (88.2 - 275.6 lbs). The tail is held erect and waved back and forth when alarmed. Males have antlers with one main beam on each side. The beam sweeps up and forward without forking, with 3 - 6 tines, or with points projecting upward from each antler beam.

Life Cycle

The breeding season, called rut, occurs from October to January, with a peak in November. Gestation takes from 195 - 212 days, and one or two young are born in May or June. Fawns weigh 2.5 - 4 kg (5.5 - 8.8 lbs) at birth. During the first week the fawn remains hidden in tall grass or under cover of other vegetation while the female forages. Within a month, the fawn accompanies the female at all times. Fawns are weaned at about eight months of age and may remain with the female (doe) for over a year. Fawns are reddish brown and covered in white spots until the fall of their first year. Sexual maturity is reached at about 1.5 years of age, but full size is not attained until 4 - 5 years of age.

Natural History

The White-tailed Deer is found in all habitats, from high mountain forests to coastal marshes. Prime areas are those which have a mix of forest, old fields and active crop lands. The White-tailed Deer is a browser, feeding on leaves, buds, and twigs of wide variety of plants. It also eats acorns, fruits, mushrooms, and many herbaceous plants. Agricultural crops like alfalfa, corn, milo and soybeans are also eaten. Feeding activity peaks are at dawn and dusk. The White-tailed Deer generally beds down during the day, but is occasionally seen during daylight hours. Otherwise this species is primarily crepuscular and nocturnal. Natural predators are bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes, which may feed on the young. Humans are the predominant predator and many individuals are killed by collisions with vehicles. The White-tailed Deer has a maximum known lifespan of 15 years, but the average is less than five years. This species can also be considered a pest when it inhabits areas close to homes and gardens, for it will eat many kinds of cultivated plants.

Range

The White-tailed Deer ranges throughout Georgia, and is common in the eastern two-thirds of the United States and southern Canada. It has been recorded in all 48 contiguous states, but is rare in California, Nevada, and Utah.

Conservation Status

This species is one of the most sought-after of all game species in North America, and one of the most heavily managed by state and federal wildlife agencies. The White-tailed Deer is managed in Georgia, with strictly controlled hunting seasons for both archery and firearms. The hutning season runs from late September to early January.

Similar Species

No other antlered, hoofed mammals in the southeastern United States can be confused with this species.