Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What the deer did

Isn’t that a cute little deer? This is one of the two cute little deer that have survived the winter using my two juniper bushes for browse. The second photo is one of the juniper bushes, which is pretty well eaten down to the bare branch. The top of the bush is where the deer can’t reach. That’s why it looks so much better.

I’m not worried about the juniper bushes. Every few years or so a winter is harsh enough that deer eat them like this. In a few months it will be as good as new. But I do think the before and after photos on the same bush are interesting.

I also find it interesting that this winter has been so hard on the deer that they were forced into my driveway to eat the junipers. In many ways, the winter should not have been difficult. The temperature was roughly average, perhaps even a hair above average. Snowfall was virtually non-existent, so the forest floor was open for browsing nearly all the time.

Deer, however, eat a lot of acorns and they were in very short supply last year. 2007 produced a bumper crop of them but 2008 was a dud for acorns. Lots of folks have posited reasons for the lack. At this point, I think the trees were just resting a bit after 2007. In any event few acorns directly translated into a tough winter for deer, even though the forest floor was bare and they would have had no trouble finding anything that lay on the ground.

Since they were still left with nothing to eat but my juniper bushes, I can only emphasize how important acorns are to deer in winter. I can also say that anything else that remains on the forest floor during winter apparently is so limited that deer can’t get a decent meal from it even when that forest floor isn’t covered by snow. I can’t imagine that there isn’t something down there for a grazer to eat, but whatever it is, apparently there isn’t much of it.

And one final thought: imagine how difficult this winter would have been for the deer if snow cover had blanketed the forest floor during it. With few acorns, lots of snow cover and essentially little or nothing else around to provide a good meal, I suspect that many of last year’s fawns, like this little guy, simply wouldn’t have made it through a winter like that at all.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Haven't see a deer near the house (usually see them on the island across from the cottage) for some time—maybe not since New Years. Wouldn't want them in my juniper, though like you said, the evergreen will bounce back.

But you know, wildlife lead more complicated lives then we often imagine. You'd think a mildish, snowless winter would be easy. But no, there's browse and then there's mast—with acorns being more important than I'd have probably guessed. You deer probably appreciated your junipers.

Pablo said...

I don't really begrudge the deer their browse. But I'm not gardening or growing crops. And I have been annoyed enuf by the eating the trees I plant to put fences around them now.