Among the widespread and most visible wildlife species that inhabit a greater part of the state’s wild lands are the California’s black-tailed deer. It is the most popular, most hunted, most adaptable, most observed, extensively distributed and most valued. Due to the role that they play in nature, their extensive distribution and their time honoured reputation with hunting and the non-hunting Californians, the California’s black-tailed deer and its habitat are conserved well and regarded as among the most significant sides of California’s wildlife management. One can enjoy their view from the Trinity Alps Wilderness meadows i.e. along the Monterey Peninsula (Sanchez and Tessaro, 2008).
Since time immemorial, the black tailed deer has been used by man to get meat for food, skins as well as sport for recreation purposes. The black-tailed deer also plays a very big role in the food chain and thus satisfying the part as browsers or grazers in the wild land vegetation. They also act as prey to the top carnivores in California i.e. black bear, golden eagle, coyote and the lion.
About 75% of the California’s wild lands are inhabited by the black-tailed deer and the mule deer in a wide range of habitats; the better part of this habitat being managed as open land under the federal government. This is done through the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service or the United States Forest Service.
The California black-tailed deer attracts hunters, approximately 200,000, annually. The opportunity of going for the for deer hunting give Californians time to enjoys their state’s wild lands and this contributes to about $450 million per year.
This paper is about the California’s black-tailed deer. It explores this most popular mammal in totality covering its reproduction, diet, physical characteristics, taxonomy, ecology, behaviour and its habitat management.
As a debut species
The black-tailed deer is stands as the species that has been studied the most of all the wildlife in California. It has been studied since early 20th C. It is a popular wildlife among the Californians. Studies have shown that the California’s black-tailed deer predictably retorts to the wild land environment that is constantly changing. The black-tailed deer are a first-showing species amongst the wildlife in California. Attention is focused on them often (Wilson and Reeder, 2005).
Taxonomy of the black-tailed deer
It has been constantly argued that the is a species, however, recent studies show that it is classified as a subspecies of the Odocoileus hemionus (the mule deer). The black tailed deer is divided into two subspecies i.e. the Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis or the Sitka black-tailed deer. It has been discovered that the mule deer group can interbreed with the black-tailed black-tailed group. It has also been discovered that the mtDNA of the mule deer and the white tailed group are the same but are different from that of the black-tailed group. Possibly, this could as a result of introgression (Wilson and Reeder, 2005).
The white tailed and the black stained deer establish the genus Odocoileus. Relying on the similarities in the anatomy, the black –tailed deer is from the order of Artiodactyl. The artiodactyls have the characteristics of being towed or/and hoofed. The males have antlers. They are ruminants hence chew cud, regurgitate food twice and beyond before swallowing and have a four chambered stomach. They have missing or reduced upper incisors and canine teeth.
In the Phylum taxonomy, deer is classified in Chordata since it is backboned. The deer belongs to the class Mammalia since it is warm blooded, gives birth, has mammary glands for nursing the young ones, and has fur on the body.
It also belongs to the family cervidae i.e. because they don’t have the gallbladder, lachrymal depression in both eyes; thirty-two teeth dews claws and only males have antlers.
Nonetheless, there are some other features that can be used to distinguish the three different species of the deer. These features include size, height, ear, tail, metatarsal gland, behaviour, gait antlers and weight.
Species of the deer
Odocoileus hemionus columbianus which is the black-tailed deer is also referred to as the black-tail, Pacific buck, Columbian deer as well as the coast black-tail. It is a subspecies of the mule deer and interbreeds with the Odocoileus hemionus californicus (the Californian black-tailed deer) and Odocoileus hemionus hemionus (the rocky mountain mule).
Among the three species, the black-tailed deer is the darkest and the smallest deer. The black-tailed exists in two species i.e. the Sitka and the Columbian. Sitka look like the white-tailed but are more reddish and larger compared to the Columbian black-tailed. The black-tailed Columbian deer is found in between British Columbia and California while Sitka occupies from British Columbia upwards. (Sanchez and Tessaro, 2008).
The black-tailed bucks are have a length of 58 inches in length, a height of 36 inches, ears of about 8 inches, metatarsal glands of about 2 inches and a tail of about half an inch. The does have a height of 36 inches, a length of about 54 inches, a six and a half inch tail, ears of about 7.75 inches and a metatarsal gland of two inches. Their skin colour changes as the seasons change i.e. they are generally reddish brown during summer and greyish during winter. The weight varies, however large bucks can even weigh over 150 pounds. The life span naturally stands at 9-10 years although when in captivity can stay for up to 20 years.
In summer, The California’s black-tailed deer appears reddish-brown while in winter they are brownish-grey. Their tails are totally black or have a white colour underneath and a dark brown colour on top. Often, when threatened, they elevate their tails to picture the underside white part. Dark brown antlers can be seen in the bucks (Sanchez and Tessaro, 2008).
These are bones protruding from the head of the buck These can only be seen in the black-tailed bucks. Development of antlers begins the male fawns when they are six-eight months old. In about four or five years, these antlers will have fully developed. These antlers develop under the velvet skin which dries up and is shade off after the full development of the antlers. Annually, the bucks shed off their antlers between January and February. New antlers then start developing and around April, they can be visible.
These are infant deer; mostly born in spring. Their main survival means is through their camouflaging coat. They have white spots around their reddish-brown skin which blends so well with the leaves on the floor of the forest. Eventually, this birth coat disappears and a greyish winter coat takes over. This makes them to camouflage with the fall forest trees. During winter, the fawns find it hard for there is no food and due to excess cold and hunger, the mortality rate is relatively high (Sanchez and Tessaro, 2008).
The behaviour of the pawns begins in small groups at family level. Pawns learn to learn how to run while in such groups, how to jump as well as how to quickly react to predators and any other danger. At this stage, pawns are very susceptible to injuries and are very fragile
These are female deer. Compared to the buck, a doe leads a very different lifestyle in that it moves in small family groups. The group leader in the family i.e. alpha doe, in most cases is the eldest or the mother of the does in that small family group. The alpha doe leads the family to fawning areas that are favourable. Unless forced by harassment or harsh weather, does will stick in areas they are familiar with.
This is the male deer. Its size is determined by many factors which include nutrition, age, environmental conditions and genetics. The buck has antlers which are bones protruding from the head of the buck. Possibly they could be developing so as to be weapons of gaining dominance amongst other bucks. These antlers are shed off during every winter and a new set develops during spring.
At the age of about 16-18 months, a buck sets out for to find a group of fellow bachelors. Upon finding this group, the buck has to prove it worth being there by establishes its status by sparring. To bucks, dominance is very important. When challenged, a buck will react by sparring at the other buck.
It has been established that the black-tailed deer do mate from November to December. During this time, sparring for dominance is very common especially in the bucks. Does are choosy and they do prefer bucks with large and heavy antlers. Around May, fawns arrive weighing 6-8 pounds. Does can give birth to a single fawn or twins. The does are left with the responsibility of raising the fawns as the bucks form groups of bachelors.
The black-tailed deer gets its food from the edges with trees where they can easily disappear when threatened. As ruminants, they have four stomach chambers. Deer prefers herbaceous and new grown plant sites in springs. Black-tailed deer feed on fungi, grasses, nuts, lichen, berries, shrubs and acorns (Sanchez and Tessaro, 2008).
Deer are browsers. During early spring and winter, they feed on deer fern, the red huckleberries, lichens on growing trees, western red cedar, Douglas fir, the western red cedar and salal. During the late spring till fall, they feed on grass, forbs, blackberries, pearly everlasting, salal, fireweed, maple and apples.
Their ‘rutting’ or mating season is in November and December. The bucks run back and forth in pursuit of the does. After rutting, the bucks hide and rest, a move that can be understood for nursing wounds. At this time, the bucks suffer from loss of weight and broken antlers. The antlers are always dropped in/ between January and March. On the floor of the forest, the dropped antlers act as a source of calcium as well as other nutrients to the trees and other inhabitants of the forest. After dropping antlers, the bucks develop new antlers between April and August.
Gestation period for the black-tailed deer does is around six or seven months. This implies that the fawns are born in May or June. In most cases, the does give birth to twins but there are cases of single births too. There are also those than can give birth to triplets too. Fawns weigh approximately 3kilograms. They have no scent a week or so after birth. Thus the mother doe is able to hide the fawns and go out for browsing and replenishing of the body after birth. In order to produce enough milk, the mother doe has to feed well. Does are often protect their fawns and view human beings as predators.
Deer communicate through the aid of pheromones and scent. They have numerous glands which are located on their lower legs. For example, alarm scent is produced by the metatarsal gland which is located on the outside part of the lower leg; mutual recognition scent is produced by the tarsal gland which is inside the hock and the trail scent is produced by the interdigital glands which are found between the toes. In addition to this, deer possess a very strong (excellent) sense of smell and sight. It can move its ears interdependently so as to pick any unusual mounds that can indicate danger. (Reid, 2006).
They do browse at dawn or dusk. They like places which are open and have trees on its sides like roads, golf pitches etc.
The black-tailed deer do live in woody foothills and mountains around the Pacific coast. The climate here is mild with profuse rainfall and cool temperatures. In an entire life, the Californian black tailed deer live in area of not more than three square mile. They never migrate and are often mountain dwellers. In winter, they search for lower elevations.
The California’s black-tailed deer thrives well on the forest edges since there is no grassland or underbrush in the forests that deer use as food. This also provides them with hiding spots unlike the open, and protection against harsh weather. The California’s black-tailed deer is very active at dusk or at dawn
Hunting the black-tailed deer
It is argued that the Californian black tailed deer is very elusive. Those who have tried hunting them understand and acknowledge their elusiveness as compared to other game animals. However, their population makes the hunters to see them. This also does not happen easily for just a few black tailed can be spotted
Though the black-tailed deer occupy small home ranges, the California’s black-tailed deer becomes very difficult to hunt. This is attributed to their unique migratory character. This therefore calls for patience in studying and hunting the California’s black-tailed deer. For good hunting therefore, one requires scouting. Some of the hunting tactics that have been used successfully in hunting the California’s black-tailed deer include: tree strands, still hunting and the rut hunting methods.
The california’s black-taailed deer is scientifically known as Odocoileus hemionus columbianus. Scientifically, it is classified to belong to the Kingdom Animalia, its Phylum is Chordata. The black-tailed deer is in the Class Mammalia and Order Artiodactyla. It is from the suborder of Ruminantia, family of Cervidae and the sub-family of Capreolinae. It is the most valued by people of all the other wildlife animals in California. It also have the unique habit of migrating unlike other types of deer. (Reid, 2006).
Feldhamer, G. and Chapman J.(eds) (2003). Wild mammals of North America: biology, management, and conservation.
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