Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Deer Hunting Season Ends and Leaves us With Many Carcasses

After nearly 80 days, the last of the deer hunting seasons comes to an end this week – at least in our region. Even though hunting is not allowed at the nature preserve, every year we have the misfortune of getting a number of wounded deer onto the property. Astoundingly, most of these are not tracked by the hunters that shot them. Instead they are left to die of their wounds. Sometimes it takes hours - sometimes days or even weeks. One buck that was shot with an arrow took about 6 days to die. The day after it was shot (it was shot just after dark!) I was able to track it for about a mile, but I couldn't find it. Finally I did come upon it lying dead in one of our creeks.
In fall most bucks walk around oblivious to all but the scent trail of a doe
A doe lays down for the night - often they get covered with sonw
I don’t think that inflicting an agonizing death on these animals is the aim of most deer hunters, but too often it is the result. Many hunters seem to lack both the ability to hit their target in the right place and the ethical sense to realize that merely wounding an animal is an unacceptable outcome.
A buck approaches his fallen comrade

A Red tailed Hawk often claims the carcass for most of the day
The only silver lining to these sad cases is that the animals that die will never go to waste. Legions of scavengers will use them to sustain themselves through the most difficult time of the year. Interestingly, it’s not just the usual suspects – the coyotes, foxes and Red-tailed Hawks, which visit deer carcasses. Even songbirds occasionally come for a small share. Most surprisingly of all, I've seen mice including the tiny Northern Jumping Mouse coming to feed on a carcass. 
The male of a pair of Coyotes that visited this carcass
The female Coyote 
Regulars to one deer carcass included a pair of Coyotes and a pair of Gray Foxes. The foxes would usually visit in the evening while the coyotes would wait until the early morning hours. Red-tailed Hawks seemed to be the most common day time scavengers. Unlike the others, the hawks will often remain at the site for many consecutive hours – fending off crows and anything else that may have a taste for carrion.
The Gray foxes were the most common nighttime visitors to the carcass

Just lately there’s been a new deer carcass right beyond our border at the top of a wooded hill. There scores of crows have been assembling every morning and late last week a group of 8 Ravens joined them. While a large flock of crows doesn't normally tolerate a single raven in their midst – especially when there’s food around, apparently when there are as many as 8 to contend with the crows reluctantly take the path of peaceful coexistence.  
The Fisher's large feet , no doubt help them to run on top of the snow
The Fisher visits the site in the early morning hours
Yesterday at that same carcass site there was an adult Bald Eagle. When I came through she took off from her perch in a large tree and started to fly toward the south. Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are known to visit deer carcasses – particularly when they are in open areas. When most of the region’s bodies of water are frozen over and fishing becomes less of an option, the Bald Eagle sees no shame in acting like a vulture.

An adult Bald Eagle was seen perching in the trees above another deer carcass
Other than the occasional set of tracks, we had been seeing little action from of our resident Fishers since the spring. That seems to have changed just lately and now I’m starting to find Fisher tracks all around the preserve and in just about every type of habitat. They don’t seem to be making a habit of visiting the deer carcasses – at least the ones that I've been keeping track of, but I expect they will at some point. Probably once their rodent prey becomes harder to come by.


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