I was saying hello to the deer in my neighbourhood this morning, and I was invited into the experience of this mother deer followed by her two growing babies. She was methodically eating.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
No clear response, just a vague, Grazing. She showed me she that her babies follow her, but she has no set course for the day today. She was just grazing, going from tasty weed to leafy bush, whatever looked good, the next thing, and the next, no plan of any kind. She was completely in the grazing zone.
It got me thinking about how her grazing state of mind could potentially last for days. Eating what looks good, wandering in the general area going from plant to plant. Returning on autopilot to her resting spots and her sleeping spots.
If she didn’t encounter people or predators, she and her babies could continue in this state for days, maybe even weeks, eating and travelling in familiar circles, gradually gaining weight for the winter, recovering from her pregnancy, getting ready to become pregnant again.
I asked her how it felt to be pregnant (and this doe seems to have twins every year.)
Normal. She replied. When she felt the new babies start to move around in her belly, it was almost reassuring. Her years had taken on a routine. In the fall, when the males begin to rut, they will isolate a fertile female to mate. It’s a stressful few days. During those days, the doe doesn’t eat. She spends most of her time feeling pursued by the bucks. Her instinct is to run from them, to see their advances as threats, until she sees one who changes her mind.
It’s usually the young buck who chase and harass her. She goes into the center of town during this time, where she can keep a clear eye out and have room to maneuver away from them. The bucks follow her, but get distracted with each other, testing their young shoulder strength against each other in mighty clashes of tug and push, antlers interlocked.
The doe does not always successfully evade these young bucks, but she does enjoy it when a more mature male shows up to scare them.
A mature male has a wider rack of antlers. He doesn’t waste energy running around or with false charges. He means it. He is attracted into town by the female’s scent, and the sound of the young male’s fighting. He is drawn to it as though he is waking up to himself for the first time in a year. He knows himself. These young males, they don’t know much. The large buck does not respect the young bucks, and that message pours out of him as he emerges from the bush to take control of the drama.
The doe likes and prefers a mature male buck. She likes to watch the mature buck scare the young ones who harass her. She stays to watch, where as when the young ones fight with each other, she uses the distraction to slip away.
It is satisfying when a large buck arrives. She does not run from the large bucks. Her brain goes quiet when she sees him. He frightens her a bit, and she did run from a large buck once, but he eventually, after a day and a half, tired her out. Once she realized what the whole encounter was about, she decided not to run from the large bucks, they could always catch her… but the young bucks usually couldn’t. She could evade and kick at the young bucks. She didn’t like their smell. They repelled her. She couldn’t relax around them. She liked it when the large male arrived – his presence could be felt before they saw him. Usually, all the big male had to do was charge once, powerfully, towards the young bucks to inspire fear in them. They would forget what was so important, and clear off.
This time of stress and being pursued lasts only a week or so, and once she has mated a few times she knows the males will melt away, and her life will go back to normal. The only difference is this conflict with the young and large bucks tends to scare away her babies, who, by this time, are able to run the grazing circuit by themselves. She will run into them again, but they will not have as much desire to stay near her, and she will not call them. Fall and winter is her time to be alone with herself.
She knows this now, when I talked to her this morning. She has done this so many times that she knows the time of the bucks is coming soon, and the two half-grown fawns who follow her now will be on their own soon. They will meet still in their usual sun-bathing spots, and watering spots. They will form groups for companionship and protection during the heaviest rainy months, when the days are short and the predators are hungry. She knows how to stay safe in the winter, and at some point when the days are getting shorter, she will feel that flutter in her belly that tells her she has company again.
All this came in a flash to me, this morning, when I asked her how it feels to be pregnant.
It’s interesting because I’m not sure she makes the connection between the mating and the pregnancy – it’s just that all these year markers seem to happen on a cycle, she knows what to expect by now, and when they do happen it’s reassuring. Things are happening just as they should, all is well. The rutting season is stressful but short. And the winter is long. Pregnancy begins and slows her down. Her hips hurt towards the end, so she doesn’t move around much in the spring. She prefers to stay in the center of town, eating from lawns and gardens. She will even forgo eating for a few weeks if there is nothing particularly appetizing or easy to eat.
Two years ago, she had her babies in our back yard. It sounds amazing, and the twin fawns were super-cute, but we were worried about them as it was below freezing outside and the doe had promptly abandoned them as all new deer mothers do – because SHE smelled like afterbirth and would attract wolves and cougars, and fawns are more likely to be safe in the first day or two if they are alone.
And alone they were. They weren’t even huddled together – one was in my neighbour’s fire pit, the other was on our side of the yard, in the middle of the lawn.
After 24 hours, we were WORRIED! Had the mother been caught by the wolves?
Thankfully, she returned, and soon her babies were old enough to eat from my garden (seriously guys? I put up netting to save my strawberries.)
She told me she has not seen the same male every year – always a different one – with the exception of two consecutive years when it was the same fellow, but already he felt *old*. With her telling it, it seems as though the bucks have a very small window of opportunity – or maybe the males simply move on to other territories? Or are hunted? It was surprising to me. She did recognize the same male two years in a row, so she *does* remember them.
I’ll see if I can ask a buck about this, if I get an opportunity.
Wild animals are so fascinating. I love my deer.