White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
A male white-tailed deer, also known as a buck
New York City attracts people from all over the world. Having them all in one place is great for exchanging ideas, experiencing new cultures, and even just people-watching. The drawback, of course, are the crowds. As anyone who has been stuck in city traffic or crammed into a crowded subway car can tell you, overcrowding presents challenges.
This is true of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) as well. White-tailed deer are a part of New York State's rich ecosystems and are greatly valued by many New Yorkers. However, at high population levels deer can pose significant challenges to human health and safety through deer-vehicle collisions and associations with tick-borne illnesses. They are also a serious threat to forest health, and can impact other native wildlife that depend on this habitat. Within New York City, populations of white-tailed deer are growing and expanding in the Bronx and Staten Island. Just like New Yorkers, deer prefer to live in areas with lots of food options and plenty of space. That’s what makes the abundance of greenery and shelter found in these boroughs’ parks and greenspaces so attractive.
Without active management, deer populations are expected to increase and further exploit available habitats. The City has implemented an integrated, non-lethal, site-specific management plan that will allow experts to take immediate steps to reduce future impacts of an over-abundant deer population, which you can read about by clicking here.
Deer Impact Management Plan
Education & Safety
Fast Facts and Coexistence Tips
White-tailed deer can be found throughout North America, with the exception of some areas in the southwest. They prefer wooded areas for protection and bedding, close to food and water. These resources are what attract deer to parks and greenspaces in urban areas like New York City. Like most urban wildlife, white-tailed deer are extremely adaptable. They can be found in forests, grassland, farmland, and transition zones or edge habitats. Most white-tailed deer have home ranges that are about one square mile throughout the year. Males will often travel farther during mating season. White-tailed deer are generally considered solitary, especially in summer. However, does are often seen with their fawns and sometimes graze together in groups.
White-tailed deer are large mammals. Adult deer can measure between 31 and 40 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh up to 300 pounds. Their coat is a reddish-brown during summer, and a duller grayish-brown during winter months. Their throats, inner ears, underparts, and the underside of their tails are white. When they detect a disturbance, deer flash the white on their tails as a warning to other deer.
Males begin to grow antlers when they are about a year old. In late January to March, bucks shed their antlers, and they regrow them in the spring to summer, developing larger sets with age. Antlers grow out of bony plates on the top of their head. During spring and summer, their antlers are covered in fine velvet-like hair. This velvet is full of blood vessels that transport nutrients for rapid antler growth. By the end of September, the antlers reach their maximum size, harden, and the outer velvet begins to shed. Bucks often rub against trees to assist in shedding, exposing the rigid bony antler. In the winter, bucks shed their antlers. If you see a buck with what looks like bloody spots on the top of its head, don’t be alarmed; he has just shed his antlers.
As most New Yorkers know, space in New York City comes at a premium. Whether you’re riding a crowded bus or navigating down a busy sidewalk, moving through the city is easier when you can squeeze into tight spaces. Deer are quite large though, and their size plays a big role in the challenges they both face and create in the city. This is especially true during the breeding season, known as the rut, which takes place in the fall. During this time of year, bucks will expand their home ranges in search of mates. This makes them more likely to be involved in deer-vehicle collisions, which are dangerous for drivers and deer alike. To learn more about deer-related traffic safety tips, click here.
During the rut, bucks use their antlers to establish their dominance and win mates. Bucks with larger antlers and body size tend to be more aggressive and more successful during the breeding season. Mortality caused by disease, sparring, hunting, and vehicular collisions brings the average age of deer to five years, though they have been known to live as long as 14 years.
Their large size also means that white-tailed deer require lots of food. Fortunately for them, they have plenty of meal options. Their four-chambered stomachs are able to process different vegetation depending on what’s available. Deer browse on leaves, flowers, berries, grasses, acorns, other nuts, fungi, twigs, and bark. They primarily eat during twilight hours in the spring and during daylight hours in the summer. Winter foraging usually takes place in late afternoon. However, they can be seen at any time during the day. At high population levels, deer browsing causes significant damage to local plant life. Deer have also been known to snack on plants in gardens. To learn more about how homeowners can protect their gardens from white-tailed deer, click here.
A female white-tailed deer and her fawn
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Deer Impact Management Plan
The City of New York has developed a five-pronged Deer Impact Management Plan to combat the negative impacts of the overabundant deer population on Staten Island. The plan includes:
• A population control study through humane sterilization of male deer
• Traffic safety measures
• Natural resource protection
• Extensive public engagement and education
• Impact monitoring
Population Control Study
The City has hired the non-profit White Buffalo, Inc. to conduct the population control study, which was permitted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to start in September of 2016. Working at night during certain times of year, a team from White Buffalo, Inc. is capturing, sterilizing, ear-tagging, and radio-collaring deer across Staten Island. In addition, the team is monitoring deer to assess population dynamics like movement and mortality.
In the first year of the study, White Buffalo sterilized 720 male deer. In the second year of the study, they sterilized 434 males. In the third year, they sterilized 423 males. As of June 2019, White Buffalo estimates that 98% of antlered male deer on Staten Island have been sterilized.
New York City conducted an aerial survey of Staten Island greenspaces in 2014, establishing a minimum population count of 763 deer over 18.7 square miles. In 2017, White Buffalo, Inc. performed a population estimate which found between 1,917 and 2,189 deer in the borough. The most recent estimate, conducted in January 2019, estimated that there were approximately 1,737 deer on Staten Island. This was a notable decrease from 2017, and an indication that the population control study may already be producing results.
A white-tailed deer with an ear tag on Staten Island (Photo by Daniel Avila / NYC Parks)
Traffic Safety Measures
In November 2015, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) began implementation of a deer corridor signage program. Permanent signage is one countermeasure used to raise awareness and prevent deer-vehicle collisions. Since 2015, DOT has installed 39 permanent signs. The following criteria guides the placement of permanent signs: The roadway must pass through or run adjacent to designated parkland or other natural area for at least one-quarter mile; the adjacent area must be known to have a high deer population through professional surveys or other observations by city, state, or federal agencies; the roadway must have experienced at least two documented crashes between deer and a motor vehicle(s). Mobile variable message boards are also deployed as needed.
Natural Resource Protection
The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks) invests millions of dollars in Staten Island city parks through habitat restoration and reforestation projects. To protect these natural resources from further damage by deer, NYC Parks is implementing a number of techniques including:
• Erecting fencing around rare, threatened, and endangered plant species, and around newly planted forbs, shrubs, and trees at restoration sites
• Installing tree guards on newly planted trees
• Using "deer repellents" to keep deer away from newly planted and restored areas
Since July 2016, NYC Parks has installed 3,690 tree guards, planted 119,825 least-preferred plants, and treated 126 acres of vegetation with deer repellant.
The City hosts public programs, events, and workshops and produces informational flyers and tip sheets to help New Yorkers learn how to live safely with white-tailed deer. To learn more about upcoming events or programs, check the Things to Do section of this website, which is updated on an ongoing basis.
To understand the problems that deer can cause and to measure the success of the Deer Impact Management Plan, the City is monitoring:
• The number and location of collisions between vehicles and deer
• The presence of ticks and the incidence of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease
• The impact of deer on the health of forests and greenspaces
• The number and location of deer carcasses
• The deer population, including their death rate, birth rate, movement, and total deer numbers
In support of the monitoring efforts regarding forest and greenspace health, a Deer Impact Vegetation Assessment is also being conducted. This is the first in-depth study focused on deer browsing impacts across New York City’s forested parkland. This study aids in the scientific understanding of how natural areas are being changed by deer, and will assist NYC Parks and the public in making informed decisions about which species to plant on their properties.
A male deer stands at the side of the road near a deer crossing traffic sign.
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Education & Safety
The City is aware of a greater potential for crashes involving deer on Staten Island and in the Bronx. We are taking steps to ensure awareness about potential conflicts between drivers and wildlife such as installing deer corridor signage.
Understand Wildlife Habits
• Activity peaks in the autumn breeding season, but deer can be a safety hazard on the road all year long.
• Use caution when driving at dawn or dusk, when deer are most active.
• Deer spend much of their time in parks and greenspaces. Be extra alert when driving near or through these areas.
• Deer sometimes travel in family groups, and seeing one animal could mean others will follow.
• Deer do unpredictable things — they may stop in the middle of the road, cross back and forth quickly, or move toward approaching vehicles.
Take Preventative Action
• The most important thing you can do to avoid a collision with wildlife is to slow down. Drive the posted speed limit, and even slower in areas with known deer populations.
• Scan the road and shoulders ahead. Look for reflections, shadows, and movements that indicate wildlife activity.
• Use your headlights to improve visibility.
• Always wear a seat belt to minimize injury should a collision occur. Avoid distracted, drowsy, or impaired driving.
How to React
• If a deer runs in front of your vehicle, brake firmly but do not swerve. Swerving can take a motorist into oncoming traffic or off the road.
• Call 911 in the event of a collision.
• If you strike a deer, do not touch or get close to it. The animal may be injured and could behave frantically, causing further safety risks.
White-tailed deer are herbivores, which means they eat plants. Sometimes, the plants in a homeowner's garden are more appealing to deer than the plants in nearby natural areas. Leaving food like corn and bread outside will not stop deer from eating your garden plants. In fact, it will further attract them to the area, and make them more likely to damage your garden. Feeding deer is also illegal.
There are no plant species that are truly “deer-proof.” If white-tailed deer are hungry enough they will eat almost anything, even the bark from trees. While plant damage cannot be totally prevented, deer do develop preferences. There are many types of plants available which deer prefer less than other plants. The plants recommended below are attractive and have the added benefit of being native to the region so they contribute to the health of beneficial native wildlife, like pollinators, and the ecosystem in general. Most of these plants can be found at local nurseries and gardening stores, or online. Planting with a high diversity of native plant species will minimize the impact that any browse will have on your overall garden design.
Forbs (Flowering Plants)
• Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
• Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
• Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
• Spice bush (Lindera benzoin)
• Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica)
• Purple-flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus)
• Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
• Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Click here to learn more about plant species least-preferred by white-tailed deer.
A male deer jumping over a non-deer resistant fence
In areas with high deer numbers, it may be desirable for a homeowner to protect their vegetation with deer fencing. A solid fence at least 5 feet tall should be effective, as deer rarely jump if they cannot see their landing zone. To protect individual groups of plants, fencing should be at least 5 feet tall and far enough from the plants to prevent deer from accessing them. There are a variety of designs and materials, and a local fence contractor may be able to help with selecting the proper fence for your property.
Your companion animals are more likely to be interested in deer than vice versa, but it's better for all that they keep their distance from one another. Deer are large, strong animals and can severely hurt or kill a pet if attempting to defend themselves. Additionally, an animal allowed to chase deer may end up running into traffic, not only putting the animals in danger but potentially people as well.
Follow these steps for all members of your family—four-legged and two-legged alike—to co-exist peacefully with deer:
• Make sure any pet that goes outside is protected by high-quality tick and flea medication. There are both oral and topical treatments for ticks and/or fleas, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Speak with your vet to decide which one is best for your pet. There is a Lyme disease vaccine available for dogs, though it is not recommended for all dogs and should be discussed with a veterinarian. Learn more about ticks.
• Always check your pet for ticks after a walk in the woods or any park with considerable vegetation such as grass, shrubs, etc. Click here to see the Humane Society of the United States' tips on checking for and removing ticks from dogs.
• Keep dogs leashed when outside, unless you are in a designated off-leash space.
• Ensure your pet has proper identification in case he or she becomes lost chasing deer. It's very important that pets have microchips and/or ID tags. New York City law requires your dog to have a dog license, worn around his or her neck whenever outside. Licenses, like microchips and ID tags, help reunite lost pets with their families. Visit NYC's online dog licensing system to apply for a license or renew an existing one.
• Keep pets away from any injured or deceased deer as well as live animals. Carcasses can transmit disease.
• Do not leave pet food outside, as it may attract deer or other wildlife.
Ticks and Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection in New York City and the United States. White-tailed deer cannot transmit Lyme disease. However, when ticks infected with the disease latch onto deer, the deer can carry the ticks long distances and help the disease spread to new areas.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans from blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Not all blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease, and once a person is bitten the tick must remain attached for at least 24-36 hours in order to transmit the disease. Lyme disease can cause symptoms like fever, headache, fatigue, and rashes on the skin. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious complications.
To prevent tick bites and reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease:
• Wear lightly colored clothing when entering tick habitats to make ticks easier to notice on your clothing.
• Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants to reduce the chances of ticks getting underneath your clothes.
• Use insect replant containing DEET (15-30%), Picaridin (20%), or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (30%). For more information, visit the EPA website on repellents.
• Upon returning from outdoors, perform a tick check on yourself, your children, and your pets. Look for ticks in all joint areas, including your navel, behind your ears, behind your knees, around your waist, and in your hair.
• Shower within two hours of coming indoors to wash off ticks and make finding crawling ticks easier.
For more information about ticks and Lyme disease in New York City, including how to safely remove ticks, please visit the Department of Health’s website.
A tick that has bitten a dog
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Fast Facts and Coexistence Tips
• In New York City, white-tailed deer can currently be found in the Bronx and Staten Island.
• Male deer are called bucks. Adult bucks grow and shed antlers annually. Bucks are more active in the fall (October–December) because of mating season. They are much more likely to be hit by motor vehicles during this time.
• Female deer are called does. Does give birth to 1-3 fawns in late spring (May–June).
• Deer can run up to 35 miles per hour and swim.
• Deer eat a variety of plants, fruits, and leaves; overgrazing can alter forest composition, allowing invasive species to flourish and threatening the future sustainability of forests.
• All wildlife in New York State falls under the regulatory jurisdiction of the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
• It is illegal to hunt anywhere in New York City.
Easy Tips for White-tailed Deer Coexistence
- Do not feed white-tailed deer. Feeding increases nuisance behavior, putting both deer and people at risk. It is also illegal.
- Enjoy from a distance. Seeing a deer can be an exhilarating experience. However, they are wild animals. For your safety and the safety of the deer, maintain a safe distance from deer. For a closer look, use binoculars or a camera. If an animal appears injured but does not pose a danger to others, leave the animal where it is and call 311.
- Drive with caution, especially at dawn and dusk. Deer are most active in the evening and early morning, and especially during the fall mating season.
- Check for ticks after visiting a park or greenspace. Humans and dogs may contract tick-borne diseases if bitten by an infected tick.
- Leave fawns alone. It is normal for mother does to leave fawns unattended for long periods each day.
- Call 911 to report any immediate threats to public safety or animal welfare.
Click here to watch a short video about white-tailed deer and learn more!