The Whitetail Deer's Habitat
The tremendous adaptability of the deer has allowed it to evolve in every climate of North America. Naturally, deer behavior differs slightly across these different regions. One big difference is that of a deer's diet, since the type of foliage fluctuates across regions. This makes it very hard to characterize the deer's habitat. One statement that can be made for certain is that deer prefer open spaces to dense, dark forests.
One of the reasons deer can be found across the US is that the steady colonization of the land by humans has not diminished the whitetail's presence. In fact, it has helped to increase the deer population. Deer are animals that thrive on open plains and sunlight. Before colonization, the forests were large, dense areas which barely let any sunlight through. As humans cleared these lands, deer finally found an area ideally suited to their lifestyle. The open land provided expanses where deer could graze and mate, but the nearby trees provided protection and warmth.
Deer will usually occupy one small area at a time until harsh conditions force them to move somewhere else. Thus, deer found in the northern regions will inhabit larger ranges, since the winters are usually harder and they need to move more often. Some northern deer may travel over 50 miles to find a suitable winter ranger. Weather is not the only factor that determines a deer’s range. Those found in the plain states occupy larger ranges, since foliage is not as abundant as in the Eastern, forested areas. An interesting example of the deer's adaptability is Fire Island, New York, which is now a popular tourist beach. Without any predators left on the island, deer roam the beach free of worry, alongside humans. Interestingly, the hooves of these deer are longer, since they are not worn down by the rocks found in forests.
Pine Tree Plantations
Pine tree plantations can be found all across the US. They consist of large coniferous trees. Coniferous trees are trees which bear cones. Most coniferous trees keep their leaves, or pines, year round. This characteristic provides deer with an ample amount of food, even during the harsh winter months. The leaves of the tree also provide the deer with shelter, both in the summer and the winter.
Although coniferous trees never lose their leaves, they do shed them. This blankets the forest floor with a thick bed of pines that deer can use to their advantage. The blanket of pines provides a soft bed for the deer to sleep in at night. They may also dig into the pines to provide warmth. The bed is thick enough so that fawns can even hide under them when evading a predator.
The pine tree plantations can prove to be very useful to the deer, especially during the winter months. It is during these months that the coniferous trees give deer added protection, which deciduous trees cannot provide.
The swamp areas, found in the Southern US, also contain some forests and farmland suitable for deer. Winters are usually warm enough so that the deer don't have to make a big change in their daily routine. Although snow is not a problem, large amounts of rainfall can be. When heavy rains strike, these areas become flooded quickly; drowning deer or leaving them stranded on an island to starve. Human populations are typically high in this area, but hunting is not as popular; most likely due to the unappealing conditions of the swamp land.
If the winter does become unbearable, a popular winter range for deer is the cedar swamps. The large cedar trees provide warmth and protection for deer, as well as an abundant food supply, since cedars do not lose their foliage in the winter.
The Northeastern US is comprised of dense forests, although the land can range from flat to hilly. Logging is common, and during the winter months, deer will seek out these areas because the felled trees provide a consistent, easy to reach, supply of food. The human population is also low, and large expanses of unsettled forests stretch for miles; providing a safe habitat for deer.
Food production is often limited where the deer rummage because the tall trees don't allow much sunlight to reach the forest floor. An ideal habitat for deer is an unsettled forest area with some sort of human intervention. For example, power lines or a small road will provide excellent locations for food to grow since the trees will have been cleared by humans. The deer are provided food and the protective cover of the forest both at the same time. The Northeast is known for its brutal winters, which often decrease the deer population. In addition, the deep cover makes for tough hunting in this area. The Central and Eastern US consists of forests as well as fields, which is mostly occupied by small farms. Unlike the Northeastern US, the human population in these areas is high and hunting is popular. Due to the milder winters, deer are usually able to find ample food to survive.
Most of the Midwestern US is made up of plains. Plains consist of very flat terrain which is ideal for farming. These areas contain many agricultural crops, such as corn, soybeans and wheat. Without a doubt, deer love to feed on these crops. The necessity of these crops is most evident in the winter, when often the remnants are all that the deer have left to eat. Cover is scant in the plains and often limited to small patches of trees. However, deer often use the abundant corps as cover. Winters can be very harsh, limiting food availability. It is usually the larger, stronger deer who survive over the young and the weak. During seasons other than winter, the deer population is healthy. Hunting is usually effective for controlling the population and the odds of success are high because deer are concentrated in the open areas close to trees.