Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Winter Severity and White-tailed Deer

This winter is the 8th snowiest on record (so far) in west-central Wisconsin.   The snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures have certainly limited my outdoor activity - and kept my bird feeding station busy.   When I'm out driving my Prius - equipped with an electric seat warmer - I feel empathy for the deer along the roadside.

This winter, they've had to contend with deep crusty snow and bitter cold winds.   Sure, they had a great summer and fall to pack on the fat, but they're way more visible these days.  It looks like winter has taken a toll on them.

I spotted a bedraggled and thirsty yearling, alone on the side of Semple Road in Arkansaw.   I came across a half-dozen does and yearlings sitting in the snow, hidden among rows of stubby little evergreens in a roadside Christmas tree farm.  I've spotted herds of them digging through the snow in the cornfields by the tree lines in the coulees.

And the numbers of road-kill deer are mounting - more than a half dozen on State Road 25 near my house.  It's always disconcerting to see dead deer along the road.  But if you look - you might be surprised to see who joins the list of scavengers at the carcass - chickadees, eagles and woodpeckers.

Red-tailed Hawk at a roadside deer carcass

So, is our local deer population suffering from a severe winter this year?

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - no, not yet.

The Wisconsin Winter Severity Index ranks this winter as relatively mild - so far - for deer.  “What stands out this winter is that it started early," says Mike Zeckmeister, DNR northern region wildlife biologist.

That it did.  And we're in for more snow tomorrow.

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