Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

November 2015: White Tailed Deer

whitetal deer

Credit: Steve Hillebrand/US Fish and Wildlife Service

White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus

Who am I?

Duh. I’m a Deer! A brown deer! A nimble deer! An elegant deer! (Not a killdeer – that’s a bird!) I’m the only kind of deer you will find in Maryland … unless, of course, you are on Assateague Island where we can be found hanging out with our cousins the Sitka deer. We are the largest wild animals in the forest, and can weigh in at 300 or more pounds! We are a rather controversial animal even though we are just trying to eat enough to survive and raise a family. Sometimes we eat pretty flowers and humans get mad and start shooting at us. Sometimes when we cross the road we don’t look both ways and may run in front of one of those fast, noisy human carrying things. Those machines are dangerous – they can kill us, and sometimes when we are hit we even hurt the humans inside.

So, about us … well we really just wander around and eat, mate and try to keep our babies safe. We mate in the fall and we will have up to 3 fawns that are born six months later -- in late winter or early spring. We will sometimes mate in the spring as well. You know our fawns; they are brown with white spots which allow them to hide in the forest.

I remember when I was young, my mother would leave my brothers, sisters and I alone for hours. It was lonely and quiet. Mom never hid us all in the same place. After about 6 weeks I no longer needed to drink my mother’s milk and we all went out eating together. My sisters and I stayed with mom for a year or two before we left to start our own family. My restless brothers took off after the first year – you know how boys are! So now I have my own family and we hang out together. Because that good for nothing father abandoned us I am a single working mom with 3 fawns. Who knows where dad went – he’s probably hanging out with his male buddies, munching leaves, playing chicken with those human carriers and otherwise getting into trouble. Men!


Where can you find me?

We can be found everywhere in the United States (except Hawaii, the deserts and Alaska) and throughout southern Canada. We prefer rather dense forests but can be found in cities and suburbs as well. We are nothing, if not adaptable. We especially like suburbs and farm areas because there are lots of things to eat and lots of small dense forest areas around neighborhoods and fields where we can hide and sleep. Dump a pile of corn in your backyard and we will find you! Even if you have never seen us around. We really don’t want to hang around humans though – they are dangerous. Sadly they have taken over our forests and built houses and farms and shopping centers so now we have no choice but to live nearby. Alas.


What do I eat?

We eat plants, so we are called herbivores. We can eat all sorts of plants, even plants and parts of plants that might not seem very tasty or even munchable. We can eat all sorts of plant stuff because we, like cows, have lots of stomachs! In our case we have 4 stomachs, each one helping to break down our food a little more until we get the good stuff – the nutritious bits! Of course, we have to chew our food really well – twice in fact. We chew, swallow, throw up our food and chew it again! The fancy word for this is called “regurigation”. This allows us to get energy from woody bits of plants, like bark.


What might eat me?

Yeah for humans! They have killed most of the wild animals that used to eat me; critters like wolves and mountain lions. Boo for humans! They and their dogs and their dangerous machines are about the only things left around that kill us!


Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • This is my time of year. We are mating and very active.
  • We are everywhere. Though we were almost wiped out and had to be reintroduced.

whitetail fawn

December 2017: Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter


Surf Scoter
Melanitta perspicillata

Who am I?

 I am a diving duck with a funny shaped nose. During the last century I was on the ropes, life was hard and my brethren were disappearing. Today things are better, though still hard. I breed in the arctic along freshwater lakes and rivers. I will lay 5-9 eggs. When my babies are born we will all head straight to the water where I will keep them safe while they learn how to catch food.

Where can you find me?

 In the summer months you can find me in the arctic. At the moment I have flown south for the winter and hang out in large, though sheltered bodies of salt water -- like the Chesapeake Bay.

What do I eat?

 Mostly shellfish, but I will also eat crabs and shrimp and plants.

What might eat me?

 I am especially vulnerable to being eaten when I am young and when I am on land nesting. On land critters like mink or fox or crows or ravens are likely to try. When in the water my young are vulnerable to snapping turtles, fish and other aquatic predators. Once we begin to fly our main worry are bald eagles -- big and hungry with sharp claws they are.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  •  I am a winter only resident of the Chesapeake Bay
  • Once the babies have hatched they are not well guarded by mom, that is well guarded from other mother surf scoters. Babies are likely traded often between females.
  • Males defend a moving territory around the female and chicks when they are in the water. Otherwise, after the babies hatch we are not very territorial.

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