Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hungry Neighbors

Yesterday I was delighted to open my garage door 
and find hungry neighbors gathered outside.  
I had been missing them during our thankfully-departed cold snap.

My neighbors are mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).
They are named for their spectacular ears.

I don't mind sharing some grass, bushes, or spruce needles 
with my four-footed neighbors 
from the nearby Ponderosa Preserve; 
but, if they start eating the wood on my house, 
I'll have to scare them off.

Muleys are browsers, 
and they feed largely on woody vegetation 
such as twigs and leaves of bushes and trees.  
They also eat crops such as corn, 
and they forage on landscaped plants and gardens. 

I keep reading that mule deer eat little grass, 
but it has been my observation 
that they are quite willing to eat it during the winter, 
especially if other food is scarce.

     Chowing Down on Grass!

Winter is a difficult time for muleys, 
and they die in larger numbers during this season.
Slowing down their metabolism 
is one strategy they have to survive the winter months.
Less activity requires less food.

Mule deer mate in the fall, 
and by now the does are showing their baby bumps.
Gestation lasts 190-200 days.
Does generally carry two babies
and give birth to them in the spring.
The fawns stay with their mothers throughout the summer
and are weaned in the fall after some 60-75 days.

I usually don't see bucks with does at this time of year,
but this one is definitely a buck!
Normally the sexes separate after the fall rut, 
and the bucks form loose bands or go off on their own.
The fall rut can be exhausting for bucks, 
and they may not survive the winter as a result. 

Typically mule bucks shed their antlers in mid-February.
The new ones begin growing almost immediately 
after the old ones are shed.
Changes in the length of day govern
the cycle of antler growth throughout the year.

Counting the points on a mule deer can be confusing!
Mule deer points are usually tallied
by the "western" count method,
where only the points on one side of the set of antlers are totaled.
When counting points on a mule deer, 
any projection over an inch long is counted, 
but eye guards or brow tines are not.
This muley is a two point buck.

Some westerners use a side by side count,
so this muley has a 2 by 2 rack.
And I am not going anywhere near asymmetrical point counts!
Points are tricky to count,
but on this muley not so much!

Mule deer have acute senses that help them detect danger.  
Their eyes are located on the sides of their heads,
resulting in excellent peripheral vision 
that enables them to see everywhere but directly behind them.
Muleys can see better than humans at night,
and they can detect the slightest movements.

Smell is another sense that is strong in mule deer, 
and they can detect the slightest odors 
within several hundred yards.

Mule deer also have excellent hearing,
much better than that of humans.
Hearing is one of a muley's main defenses against danger.
When it hears something, a mule deer will face the sound
and direct its ears toward it to find the possible threat. 

I am happy to share my habitat with my four-legged neighbors,
but I never forget they are wild animals 
when I move among them with my camera.
Despite their small size, 
mule deer can inflict serious or fatal injuries 
on humans if they are provoked.
Fortunately such incidents are rare.

If you would like to read another blog post I have written about muleys you can click on this link: 


  1. Hi Louise, it is Barb. I love your pictures - I am definitely going to have to come visit in the winter sometime to see the deer up close.

  2. No way! Are you seriouse? I can't believe that the deer get so close to homes...and to people. Simply amazing. What a great post! And I love these photos. These are just beautiful animals, aren't they? I'd be out with my camera snapping up dozens up photos if given a chance like this!!

  3. Thanks Martha!
    You can get quite close to the deer, as long as you move slowly. I also try never to walk straight toward them. I don't know if that is necessary, but I try not to look threatening. If it's rutting season, or if the does have fawns, I stay well clear. Muleys are beautiful, and I snapped 130 photos in about 10-15 minutes yesterday. I tend to lose track of time when I'm taking pictures. I try to always have my camera with me. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post!

  4. Wow, these are beautiful animals! I LOVE your photos of them. And there are so many of them!
    I hope you don't mind if I ask you something that has nothing to do with this post but did you see the TV show on PBS that was called "Krakatoa:The Last Days"? It was on two nights ago here in the Atlanta area. I think you would really find it interesting. (I remember your post on Pompeii.) I looked it up and the TV movie was made in 2006, which means it was made only two years after the tsunami which killed so many in 2004.
    I know sometimes that the public TV stations air things at different times around the country, so keep an eye out for it!

    1. Hi Kay!
      Thank you for the encouraging feedback on my photography. I had so much fun photographing the muleys.

      Feel free to ask me anything any time you want. I didn't see the PBS show on Krakatoa, but I'm recording a new series PBS has started on volcanoes - so I'm betting that it's on my DVR. I haven't had time to check.

      About the only thing I've stayed on top of reasonable well in the past three weeks is my blog. My Christmas tree is still up! Sometimes colds really take me down. But I'm slowly getting things under control. I have a massive heap of ironing to do, so the first thing I'll check are my PBS volcano tapes.

      Thank you so much for alerting me to the show. Volcanology has always been one of the most fascinating areas in geology for me. My third graders always learned lots about volcanoes and other thing geologic.

      Enjoy your long weekend. Terry and I are going up to Black Hawk and Central City for Sunday and Monday. I'm going to be out with my camera and notebook as I continue to nail down the story of the little burro in front of the old courthouse. I've finally got the name of someone who can actually tell me the true facts of the story. Now if I can track her down in CC.

      We'll see. :)
      Have a good one.

  5. WOW~I LOVE THEM!!! They look so different from the deer we have here. The muley ears are to-die-for cute. I think it's so great that you were able to take so many photos up close of them. Really lovely.

  6. Thank you, Audrey for the positive feedback on my photos of the muleys.

    They are quite different from the white-tailed deer in the east. When muleys are bedded down during the day, you can often spot them by the silhouette of their ears sticking up in the grasses or brush. And their ears are so cute. They and Arwen (LOTR) make me feel so much better about my prominent ears! I enjoy photographing wildlife and researching information about them so much.

    Have a wonderful long weekend! Terry and I are looking forward to some fun in the mountains. Even though I'm retired, I still love long weekends!

  7. I loved meeting your neighbors! We see deer almost daily, but not nearly as close to our house as your deer.

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed the deer, Terry! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them right outside my door in such a large group. It made for some photo fun! I hope that you are enjoying this lovely and warm weekend.

  8. We've never had any deer on our property because of the perimeter set up with fencing and many trees lining the entire edge. Also with the vet next door...sounds and smells keep deer at bay. However, with that being said, a while ago I saw a deer in the vet's parking lot...ironic eh!
    They would have a feed on our plants...enough for the winter...we do have quite a few plants I've been told.
    Thanks for the details and gees you can actually move around the deer without them heading off. I don't think I'd do that.
    PS...if you had that many on your property there must be hordes more.

  9. Hi Ron!
    I bet your garden and yard are lovely! We are always fighting clay soils, drought, hail, and grasshoppers where I live, so I'm more into hanging pots and containers. One of the things I like about Heritage Eagle Bend is that there aren't many fences. Much of older Aurora is an ugly, weathered, wooden fence maze.

    Sometimes the deer will move off when you walk through them, and other times they don't. I'm just very slow and careful. Down in the park I've had the herd walk by me with them completely surrounding me when they passed.

    I'm not sure how many deer there are. I've counted up to fourteen does at one time, and I can identify four different bucks. There were eleven on Wednesday. There are other groups within a couple of miles, but this is the one that hangs out in this part of HEB and the park.

    Have a good rest of your weekend, Ron!

  10. These deer are obviously protected, Louise? They are not hunted in another area? There are so many in parts of Nova Scotia that it is a real problem. We know a lady who has a Rhododenron farm on the south shore and the deer will and do decimate all the bushes she has. I wouldn't know what I'd do.
    These deer in your area are very different looking than ours. I immediately noticed their ears! They are huge and for a reason I learned. I guess your neighbourhood is used to their wondering around the properties.
    Very informative post Louise. Thanks.

  11. Hi Jim!
    These deer are protected by the fact that they live in a suburban area and surrounding park land.
    There is hunting in lots of wild areas in the state. The Department of Wildlife does a population count every year, and it culls deer in the wild.
    There are coyotes and wild cats that feed on the deer in our area, but these have been pretty lucky. We have some not-so-smart people outside our subdivision who have been feeding the deer. That has resulted in some does dropping three babies rather than the usual two. So the population within a few miles of where I live has been growing.
    Maybe they show up here for a little variety in their diet. Some people probably get more upset when the dear chow down on our bushes and trees. Me not so much! We moved into their habitat, so I feel like we're the intruders.
    Whatever - I'm having fun observing the muleys!
    I'm up way late again! When will I ever learn? When I'm fat, depressed, and loosing my memory, I hope someone will be kind enough to remind me that I had a lot of fun getting to that state!
    Hope you're sleeping! Have a good Sunday!


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