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CLINE: Making some deer friends

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

I don’t have much in common with Tony Saprano, save possibly our physiques (or lack thereof). But while Tony had his ducks, which came to live and mate in his backyard pool, I’ve got my deer.

They reside in the unfinished part of my subdivision, a slab of land with cul-de-sacs to nowhere flanked by thick, wooded areas where a small stream flows through. I walk my dog in that back area and those walks — early in the morning and later in the evening – conincide with the most active times for the deer.

That makes for some interestign encounters, with me giving the deer a start and vice versa. Though I enjoy seeing the deer (my dog, not so much), I feel bad for infringing on their territory. But that has changed a little, first after they ate my hibiscus plants and second after speaking with a wildlife biologist.

But after investigating a little, I learned that while my subdivision may not be a perfect habitat for the deer, it’s not all bad. Like a country kid who moves to the suburbs, there is lots of change but some advantages as well.

“As long as they can steer clear of vehicles and large dogs and the occassional hunter, they can live a pretty good life when they come out of the woods on occassion and munch on the high-priced landscaping (of suburban homes),” said Don McGowan, a senior wildlife biologist who works out of Social Circle for the Department of Natural Resourcss (DNR). “Some of the biggest deers we’ve seen are in the suburbs, and we think that has to do with all the nutrients they get.”

Nice to know the hibiscus plants didn’t die in vain. The more I talked to McGowan, the more he convinced me not to feel too bad about infringing on the deer’s habitat. They are natural nomads, easily assimilating with even the barest of rations. Which explains why I’ve seen them running through my yard or munching on bird seed from my neighbor’s feeder.

“Yes, they may be displaced somewhat. But another thing is they are very adaptable animals themselves — they can adapt to suburban areas,” he said. “They’ll get moved around (at times), but it doesn’t take much wooded cover (for them to live).”

McGowan said the influx of suburban deer is a recent phenomenon. The biggest problem, he said, is the danger deer can pose to motorists. And while man isn’t too big of a threat to the deer — McGowan said suburban deer get accustomed to seeing people, letting them nearer than they would in the wild — he said he does get calls when large herds threaten to overrun a neighborhood.

“Occassionally, I’ll talk to an HOA and they’ll have some complaints and we can discuss options,” McGowan said, with one of those being to send in group of bow hunters. “It’s only been in the past 10 to 15 years that it’s become a problem. It’s not a tremendous problem, but (it can be) a problem.”

McGowan said deer have great night vision, which means they see me long before I see them on my walks at dusk. They like to bed down during the heat of the day, something I’d also do if I could, and the family dynamic is fawns stay with their mothers while the males stay to themselves outside of mating season — kind of like suburban families during football season.

Deer set up home ranges, or territories, and it just so happens my subdivision is one. After talking with McGowan, I feel good about continuing to enjoy the deer I see — seven being my personal record on one walk.

But bulldozers have arrived in that unfinished part, promising more suburban homes for people and less for deer. In short time the deer may face the same decision as suburbanites — stay at the home they know, or try to move farther out, away from the crowd.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.