Jan 21, 2015

Blacktail Deer Alarm Walk

I live in the Pacific Northwest. The common species of deer around here is the Columbia Blacktail. I also live on 1.3 acres in a somewhat rural area. This means we occasionally see these beautiful creatures wandering right through our yard. In my last Summer Newsletter (you can sign up for my quarterly newsletters here) I shared a picture of this young buck who came to visit me (along with two does).

Well, they didn't really come to visit me. They came to visit my fruit trees and blueberry bushes!

There's no hunting allowed in the immediate area so the deer here are not too skittish. When I came out with my camera to get some photos he was quite aware of my presence. But he was not interested in running. Instead, he started to walk back and forth in front of me with this odd sort of strut. He was obviously a very young buck, with his baby fawn spots still slightly visible on his back. It was easy to imagine he was strutting around to show off the tiny knobs of his first antlers, letting everyone know he was a big boy now. But I don't believe deer experience vanity, so I was curious as to why he might be putting on this show for me.

I started doing some research online for information on this peculiar behavior. Considering deer are one of the top game animals in North America I expected to find an abundance of information about this in articles about deer behavior for hunters. But there was surprisingly little about it. I did come across one research article that even stated this "unique conspicuous gait pattern, the alarm walk...has not been described in the literature", apparently not mentioned much.

According to the article, this buck was, in a sense, showing off. But not his antlers. This is a behavior blacktail deer exhibit when they encounter a potential predator. Old, arthritic, or injured deer cannot perform these movements. With this prancing gait he was showing me, the potential predator, that he was strong and healthy and could likely outrun me, so I should not bother to give chase. A wonderful way of saving us both a lot of time and energy.

So there you have it. If you ever see a deer doing this in your presence it's the "alarm walk" and it's basically telling you "Don't even try it! You'll never catch me!" :)

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