Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Artiodactyla / Cervidae / Odocoileus / Species
Odocoileus virginianus - White-tailed deer (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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INFORMATION AVAILABLE

The information in subject headings below has been incorporated to support various Wildpro Volumes and is not complete. Further detailed information will be added when a Deer Health and Management, or similar, Wildpro Volume is completed.

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Whitetail
  • Virginia Deer
  • Odocoileus virginiana clavium - Key Deer (B180)
  • Odocoileus virginiana couesi - Arizona Whitetail or Coues' deer (B180)
  • Cerf queue blanche (French) (B299)
  • Virginiahirsch (German) (B299)
  • Alternative species names (the second part of the binomial species names): [Genus] abeli, [Genus] acapulcensis, [Genus] aequatorialis, [Genus] antonii, [Genus] battyi, [Genus] borealis, [Genus] brachyceros, [Genus] campestris, [Genus] cariacou, [Genus] carminis, [Genus] chiriquensis, [Genus] clavatus, [Genus] clavium, [Genus] columbicus, [Genus] consul, [Genus] costaricensis, [Genus] couesi, [Genus] curassavicus, [Genus] dacotensis, [Genus] fraterculus, [Genus] goudotii, [Genus] gracilis, [Genus] gymnotis, [Genus] hiltonensis, [Genus] lasiotis, [Genus] leucurus, [Genus] lichtensteini, [Genus] louisianae, [Genus] macrourus, [Genus] margaritae, [Genus] mcilhennyi, [Genus] mexicanus, [Genus] miquihuanensis, [Genus] nelsoni, [Genus] nemoralis, [Genus] nigribarbis, [Genus] oaxacensis, [Genus] ochrourus, [Genus] osceola, [Genus] peruvianus, [Genus] philippii, [Genus] rothschildi, [Genus] savannarum, [Genus] seminolus, [Genus] sinaloae, [Genus] spelaeus, [Genus] spinosus, [Genus] suacuapara, sylvaticus, [Genus] taurinsulae, [Genus] texanus, [Genus] thomasi, [Genus] toltecus, [Genus] tropicalis, [Genus] truei, [Genus] ustus, [Genus] venatorius, [Genus] veraecrucis, [Genus] wiegmanni, [Genus] wisconsinensis, [Genus] yucatanensis, (B141)

Thirty eight subspecies are listed by one authority. (B299)

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Fawn. (B180
Names for males Buck. (B180
Names for females Doe. (B180

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General Appearance

Smallish to medium-sized deer, General colouration of upper parts tan or reddish brown (summer) or greyish brown (winter). Belly, throat, nose band, eye ring and inside of ears white. Tail brown with a white edge above and often a dark stripe down the centre, and white underside. Chin has black spots on the sides.(B180

Similar Species

Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer tail is black tipped and antlers have both main beams branching. (B180)

Distinguished from Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer by: tail (brown on dorsal surface, white laterally and on underside, relatively long), antlers (one main beam with minor branches, long sub-basal snag), ear length (half of head length), shallow preorbital (lachrimal) pit, short metatarsal gland (less than 42mm). (B147)

  • Metatarsal gland is only about 2.5cm long (1.0 ins) rather than about 7.6 cm/3.0 ins in the black-tailed deer and 12.7 cm (5 inches) in mule deer. (B299)
  • Longer and paler tail than in Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer. (B299)
Sexual Dimorphism  

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References

Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

Husbandry references:

ORGANISATIONS
(UK Contacts)

 

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

  • Deer (Cervidae)

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

  • Deer (Cervidae)

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Husbandry Information

Notes

--
Individual Techniques linked in Wildpro

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Length
  • 1.88-2.13 m / 6 ft 2 inches / 7 ft. (B180)
Height
  • 68-114 cm / 27-45 inches. (B180)
  • Males of northern populations usually more than 1m at the shoulder, south central USA populations males average 0.9m, inland South America males about 0.8m at the shoulder, Florida Keys males average 625mm. (B147)
  • In general larger forms are found in the north, smaller forms in the south. (B299)
  • Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis (Dakota white-tailed deer) may be about 102 cm / 40 inches at the shoulder. Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis (Dakota white-tailed deer) may be about (B299)
Adult weight General
  • Odocoileus virginiana clavium - Key Deer up to 23 kg / 50 lb. (B180)
  • Odocoileus virginiana couesi - Arizona Whitetail or Coues' deer up to 45 kg / 100lb. (B180)
  • Speard of body mass about three-fold to four-fold. (B300.10.w10)
Male
  • 68-141 kg / 150-310 lb. (B180)
  • Males of northern populations usually weighing 100-150kg, south central USA populations  weight 50-100kg, inland South America weight 30-55kg, Florida Keys males average 36kg. (B147)
  • Odocoileus virginianus dacotensis (Dakota white-tailed deer) may be about 136 kg / 300 lb, exceptionally even 180 kg / 397 lb. (B299)
  • Subtropical and tropical areas under 50 kg. (B300.10.w10)
Female
  • 41-96 kg / 90-112 lb. (B180)
  • Subtropical and tropical areas under 35 kg. (B300.10.w10)
New-born weight
  • About 1.5-3.5 kg. (B147)
Growth rate --

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Head

General

Skull

  • Antlers main beam facing forwards with several unbranched tines behind and a small brown tine. (B180)
  • Rarely, antlers are seen in does. (B180, B299)
  • First antlers are usually a single spike known as a "spikehorn". (B180)
  • By three years old a buck may have eight points however the number of points varies with nutritional factors. (B180)
    • Usually seven or eight, may be thirty or more in abnormal animals with a record of 49. (B299)
    • South American bucks generally have few tines. (B299)
    • Odocoileus virginianus leucurus - Columbia white-tailed deer: antlers short, thin, three-pronged; beams rather straight. (B300.10.w10)
    • Tropical forms have smaller antlers. (B300.10.w10)
  • Antlers shed January to March, begin growing April or May, lose velvet August or September. (B147)
  • Shed January to February, older animals first. Regrowth starts April or may, velvet shed September. (B299)
    • In Pennsylvania shedding has been recorded as early as late November / early Decmber. (B299)
    • Individuals in poor health, and immmature animals, may not shed until March / early April. (B299)
    • In South America shedding is irregular. (B299)

Nose:

  • --

Ears:

  • Oedocoileus virginiana couesi - Arizona Whitetail or Coues' deer has relatively large ears and tail. (B180)
Dentition (Teeth)
  • i 0/3, c 0/1, pm 3/3, m 3/3 (B147)

  • Upper canines often present in South American forms. Canines more vestigial in tropical forms. (B300.10.w10)

Eyes --

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Legs and Tracks

Tracks: Shape of tracks like narrow spilt hearts, narrow end forwards. Prints about 50-75 mm / 2-3 inches long, sometimes dewclaws show as twin dots behind the main prints in soft mud or snow. Drag marks may be seen in front of prints, from both species in deep snow and from bucks even in snow as little as 25 mm / one inch deep. Straddle 5-6 inches, stride 0.3 m / one foot when walking, 2 m / 6 ft or more when running. (B180)

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Tail

  • Length: 15-33 cm / 6-13 inches. (B180)
  • Tail shorter in tropical forms. May be 14-20% of body length in North American forms but 13-14% in Venezuelan forms. (B300.10.w10)

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Coat / Pelage

Adult Female
  • Summer coat: Upperparts reddish brown. (B147, B299)
    • Throat has whitish patch, inside of ear is white. (B299)
    • Belly and inside of thighs white. (B299)
    • Tail underside is white. (B299)
    • This coat is retained year-round in hot climates, with the hair shorter and lacking underwool; the time over which the coat is shed and re-grown may be prolonged. (B300.10.w10)
  • Winter coat: Upperparts brownish grey to grey, underparts paler. Hairs tubular, stiff and brittle. (B147, B299)
Variations (If present)
  • Only slight differences in coat colour between subspecies. (B299)

  • True albinos and melanistic individuals are both rare. (B299)

  • Odocoileus virginianus leucurus - Columbia white-tailed deer: dusky greyish brown. (B300.10.w10)

  • In the tropical forms, those from humid forests have darker coats, those from xeric habitats have paler fur. (B300.10.w10)

Moult
  • Spring moult:
  • Autumn moult:
New-born / Juvenile

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Neonate (New-born) Characteristics

--

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

  • Reproductive: Udder (visible late pregnancy and early lactation) has four teats (B142).
  • Scent glands: Active preorbital (lachrymal) gland, both sexes and fawns, also digital glands between hooves, ventral tail glands and hock (metatarsal) glands (B142, B144).
    • Metatarsal gland (below the hock, outside trailing edge of the hind leg) only about 2.5cm 1.0 ins long. (B299)
      • Odocoileus virginianus leucurus - Columbia white-tailed deer: metatarsal gland whitish, about 16 mm long. (B300.10.w10)
      • Metatarsal gland is absent in tropical forms. (B300.10.w10)
  • Digestive: Rumen about 10% of body weight. (B300.10.w10)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Reproductive Stages

Breeding Season
  • In north, first two weeks in November, in south of range January or February. (B180)
  • Mating October to January (peak November) in North America. (B147)
  • In North America rut October to early December, reaches its height in November. (B299)
  • In South America variable with location:
    • Peru mainly February to March. (B299)
    • Long breeding season (mating may occur year-round) and low-intensity rut in tropics. (B300.10.w10)
Oestrus / Ovulation Seasonally polyoestrous, oestrus cycle about 28 days, oestrus lasts about 24 hours. (B147)
Gestation / Pregnancy
  • About 6.5 months. (B180)
  • Gestation usually 195-212 days. (B147)
  • About seven to 7.5 months. (B299)
  • About 210 days in tropical forms. (B300.10.w10)
Parturition / Birth
  • April to September. (B147)
  • North America mainly May to early June. (B299)
  • In the Llanos peak of births matches the vegetation peak. (B300.10.w10)
Neonatal development
  • Able to stand after a few hours. (B147)
  • Left hidden in dense vegetation for about the first month, nursed about every four hours. (B147)
  • Nibble on vegetation when only a few days old. (B147)
  • Able to run by three weeks. (B147)
  • Usually weaned by about four months old. (B147)
  • Females may stay with their mother for two years but males generally leave at one year old.(B147)
Litter size
  • One to three fawns. Generally one in the first litter, thereafter usually two but sometimes three in very good conditions. (B180)
  • First litter usually a single fawn, thereafter two, occasionally three or even four. (B147)
  • Twins are common, triplets occasional; quadruplet embryos have been recorded. (B299)
  • Twins rare in the small tropical forms. (B300.10.w10)
Time between Litters / Litters per year
  • One per year. (B180)
Lactation / Milk Production  
Sexual Maturity Sexual maturity within first year, although most reports indicate mating generally first occurs during the second year. (B147)
Longevity
  • Longevity in wild rarely more than 10 years, or 4.5 years in regularly hunted areas. (B147)
  • Record age pregnant female estimated 19-23 years old. (B147)

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Natural Diet

Grass, weeds. shrubs, twigs, mushrooms, nuts lichens. (B147)
  • Grazes on green plants including aquatic plants in summer. Acorns, beechnuts, other nuts and corn are eaten in fall (autumn). In winter woody vegetation is eaten "including the twigs buds of viburnum, birch, maple, and many conifers." (B180)

Opportunistic concentrate feeders. (B300.10.w10)

  • Will eat dead birds and ladybug beetles and have been seen eating small dead fish (alewives). (B300.10.w10)

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Temperature --
Pulse --
Respiration --
Faeces
  • When grazing produces hard dark cylindrical pellets, about 19 mm / 3/4 inch long usually, sometimes round. (B180)
  • When grazing succulent vegetation produces faeces which are cylindrical, segmented and evenly massed. (B180)
Haematology / Biochemistry --
Chromosomes  
Other  

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

  • About 2.25-4 kg / 5-9 lb food is eaten per deer per day. (B180)
  • Eat about 25 g/kg bodyweight per day in summer, 20 g/kg bodyweight/day in winter. (B300.10.w10)
  • Mainly a browser. (B147)

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Parental Behaviour

Fawns are left hidden, with twins separate from one another and the mother remaining nearby, returning to suckle once or twice daily. (B180)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality

Intra-specific
  • Family groups consist of a doe and her young which may remain with her for nearly a year, sometimes up to two years.(B180)
    • Males are less likely to disperse from their natal range as a yearling if their dam dies. (B300.10.w10)
  • Bucks form buck groups outside the rutting season, generally consisting of three to five bucks. These groups constantly change and break up at about the start of the rut in the fall. There is a dominace hierachy within the buck group, maiintained by threat displays including stares, lowered ears and both head-up and head-down postures. Attacks generally involve kicking but more rarely rearing and flailing with the forefeet.(B180)
  • In winter groups of as many as 150 deer may form in deer yards. This behaviour, by the movement of large groups of animals, acts to keep trails open and as a protection from predators. Within the yards leadership is matriachal.(B180)
  • Deer may occupy the same range from year to year. Bedding sites may be defended but otherwise territoriality is not shown.(B180)
  • When nervous snorting through the nose and stamping of the hooves serve to alert other deer nearby to danger.(B180)
  • Alarmed deer raise ("flag") their tail, showing a large flash of bright white which signals danger to other deer and also assists fawns in following their mothers in flight. (B180)
  • Large tail is held erect and waves from side to side when alarmed and bounding away from danger. (B299)
  • Population densities recorded e.g. 25 per square kilometre in Michigan and 50 per square kilometres in Texas.
    Home range, generally elongated shape, contain good variety of food, water and cover; size variable, may be 24.3-137.6 hectares for females, 97.1-365.1 hectares for males, not including migratory routes. (B147)
  • Basic social unit includes a doe, her yearling daughter, and the fawn(s) of this year. although several females may form a lasting association in an area. (B147)
  • Males may be found alone or in small groups for most of the year. In male groups a dominance hierarchy is maintained by aggressive postures and stares, rearing and flailing with the forefeet, and chases. (B147)
  • In winter deer (all ages and sexes) may aggregate in favourable areas, an activity called yarding; this is generally less e organised in Odocoileus virginiatus than in Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer and with smaller groups formed. (B147)
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

Less polygamous than most deer; a few bucks may mate with only one doe. (B180)
  • A male associates with a single doe until he mates her (or is displaced by another male), then moves on to seek another doe. (B147, B299)
  • Mating season: males rub facial scent glands against vegetation also urinate into scrapes below marked bushes and trees. (B147)
  • Ritualised combat with initial displays then, if neither retreats, antlers are lowered, the males charge, lock antlers and push and twist until one is driven back; this usually is of short duration, 15-30 seconds. (B147)
  • Rutting season begins at about the time the bucks' antlers are losing their velvet; this varies with latitude. (B180)
  • Bucks, still in buck groups at this time, increase sparring for dominance. Sparring involves two deer locking antlers and trying to push one another backwards.. Buck groups then break up with several bucks beginning to follow a doe at a distance of about 50m / 150 ft, the larges buck being closest to the doe. Bucks may mate with several does over the rutting season. Buck rubs are developed to which the buck returns repeatedly, leaving glandular secretions. Bucks also produce scrapes, in which does urinate, after which the buck follows the doe's trail. (B180)
  • Bucks may emit characteristic grunt while following the scent of a doe. (B299)

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Predation in Wild

Predators include timber wolf, red wolf, coyote, red fox, black bear, grizzly bear, wolverine, puma, lynx, bobcat, feral dogs and even fishers (Martes pennanti), eagle, alligator; in South America the jaguar, ocelot, savanna fox and also possibly the anaconda and boa constrictor. (B300.10.w10)

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Activity Patterns

  • Runs top speed 36 mph / 58 km/hr. Able to make vertical leaps of 2.6 m / 8.5 ft and horizontally 9 m / 30 feet. (B180)

  • Walk cautiously, bound away from danger, can run at 64 km/hr, swim very well. (B147)
  • Swim well. Do not do well on ice. (B300.10.w10)
  • Gallop from danger. (B300.10.w10)

Vocalisations: 

  • Grunts and snorts, low grunts by females to their young. (B147)
  • Occasional snorts and whistles, particularly when alarmed. (B299)
  • Shrieks when injured or captured. (B299)
Circadian
  • Primarily nocturnal but may be active at any time. Usually seeks concealing cover near to dawn to rest up. (B180)
  • Most active at dawn and dusk. (B147)

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

  • Farmlands, brushy areas, woods, and suburbs and gardens. (B180)
  • Preferred habitats contain sufficient vegetation for concealment but are not too dense. (B147)
  • Late spring and summer: often near lakes/ponds/streams, with  abundant succulent grass and water plants such as lilies, later move to other areas often woods around areas with abundant algal growth, then in August to areas with early mast production, chestnuts etc. (B299)
  • In winter use "deer yards" with heavy vegetation cover providing both food and protection from the weather. (B299)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

--

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal
  • Widely distributed in North America. (B299)
    • Southern Canada in provinces adjacent to the USA, and in Nova Scotia, but not in Labrador, Northwest Territory, Yukon or Newfoundland. (B299)
    • In the USA found in most states (not in Alaska and not in Utah.(B299)
  • Southward through Mexico, Central America and into the northern part of South America to about latitude 23S. (B299)
  • "Southern Canada - Peru, Northern Brazil; [Cuba, etc., New Zealand]". (B51)
    "Western and Southern Canada; North west, south west, Central and eastern USA to Bolivia, Guianas and Northern Brazil." (B141) 
  • "Southern half of southern tier of Canadian provinces; most of U.S., except far Southwest." (B180)
  • Southern Canada and the conterminous USA except parts of the southwest, also Mexico to Bolivia and northeastern Brazil. (B147)
  • Odocoileus virginiana couesi - Arizona Whitetail or Coues' deer. Found in the Arizona desert. (B180)
  • Odocoileus virginiana clavium - Key deer. Found in the Florida Keys, only in the Big Pine Key area. (B180)

Movements:

  • Pronounced seasonal movements in northern areas with severe winters. (B299)
  • Migrate in autumn, about 10-50 km, to lower altitudes or areas of good winter food supplies. (B147)
  • Young animals may disperse 10-200 km from natal range. (B147)
  • In South America, on the coast during the dry season, stay in valleys near water, and visit crop fields; with the rains in December / January, move up the valleys, then descend again in May as grasses dry up. (B299)
Occasional and Accidental  
Introduced
  • Introduced in New Zealand. (B147)
  • Introduced to Czechoslovakia, Finland, New Zealand and West Indies, where these deer may survive on Cuba, Curacao, St. Croix and St. Thomas Islands". (B141)
  • Europe: Czechoslovalia (since about 1840), Finland (since about 1934). (B299)
  • New Zealand (South Island) since about 1901. (B299)
  • West Indies (Cuba) since about 1850. (B299); since 1848. (B300.10.w10)

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Conservation

Intraspecific variation

Subspecies:
  • Odocoileus virginiana couesi - Arizona Whitetail or Coues' deer. Found in the Arizona desert, maximum weight 45 kg / 100 lb, relatively large tail and ears. (B180)
  • Odocoileus virginiana clavium - Key deer maximum weight 23 kg / 50 lb. (B180)

Subspecific hybrids occur. (B299)

Hybridization with Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer in the wild has been reported. (B147)

  • Hybridization usually occurs with a male white-tailed deer and a female Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer. (B300.10.w10)
  • More common where more large Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer bucks than white-tailed bucks are removed by hunting, giving mule deer bucks access to white-tailed deer does in oestrus. (B300.10.w10)
  • Male hybrids are usually sterile. (B300.10.w10)
  • In captivity hybrids are healthy and females are fertile, good mothers and raise large fawns. (B300.10.w10)
  • First generation hybrids look more like white-tailed deer than like Odocoileus hemionus - Mule deer. (B300.10.w10)
  • Hybrids appear not to survive well in the wild (a few hybrid fawns and yearlings are seen but older hybrids are seen only exceptionally) and it is thought that this may be due to incompatible anti-predator strategies between the two species, with hybrids neither galloping rapidly away like white-tailed deer nor stotting effectively like mule deer, but hopping in inefficient slow bounds, and also tended to be inquisitive on approach of a predator rather than either being aggressive or fleeing. (B300.10.w10)

Hybridisation with Axis axis - Spotted deer reported. (B299)

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Conservation Status

Wild Population -
(Importance)
  • IUCN Listing 1991 - (B51): Rare in part of range.
  • Odocoileus virginiana clavium - Key Deer is considered endangered and is fully protected; National Key Deer Refuge was established in Florida in 1961. (B147, B180)
  • Odocoileus virginianus leucurus Columbian white-tailed deer. Near-threatened. Restricted to a national wildlife refuge, nearby islands and lowlands along the lower Columbia River and in the Umpqua Basin in southwestern Oregon; population about 3,000, 3,000 of these in the Umpqua Basin. (B147)
General Legislation --
CITES listing --
Red-data book listing --
Threats
  • Hunting. Exterminated from much of their range prior to development and enforcement of regulations. (B147)
  • Hunter kills now are about 2 million, with a total population of at least 14 million. (B147)
  • Population estimate of more than 11 million in the USA. (B299)
  • Collisions with vehicles: road traffic accidents kill large numbers of deer yearly. (B147)
  • In Mexico and Central America, habitat destruction, illegal hunting and expanding agriculture. (B147)
  • In South America illegal hunting (greater than the legal take) and habitat loss as the human population expands. (B147)
  • Odocoileus virginianus clavium, western Florida Keys. (B147)
    • Low of 26 in 1945, increased to about 350-400 by early 1970s due to full protection, but now declined to about 250 due to habitat loss outside the legal refuge, motor vehicle accidents and other development-associated mortality.  (B147)
  • Odocoileus virginianus leucurus Columbian white-tailed deer. Near-threatened.  (B147)
    • Restricted to a national wildlife refuge, nearby islands and lowlands along the lower Columbia River and in the Umpqua Basin in southwestern Oregon; population about 3,000, 3,000 of these in the Umpqua Basin. (B147)
    • Threatened by interbreeding with Odocoileus hemionus. (B147)
Captive Populations --
Trade --

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