Deer winter in towns to avoid predators

Published: Apr. 18, 2019 at 11:19 AM EDT
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The number of deer sightings in residential areas is on the rise, but what attracts them to populated areas? Kathy McCarty met with a wildlife biologist to find out why deer are frequenting neighborhoods more and more, each winter.

Pockets of deer remain in the woods of western Aroostook, but it's a tough life for them. Wildlife Biologist Shawn Haskell says between starvation, predators like coyotes and an occasional lynx, as well as competing with moose for food, it's a struggle for deer in the wild. That's why over time they've transitioned to more residential areas in colder months.

"We had the spruce bud worm outbreak, in the '70s and '80s, and there was a lot of salvage logging that went on. They lost a lot of their cover, and right at the same time the coyote showed up."

The appearance of coyotes in recent years drove deer to seek safety closer to people.

"The coyote came to us from the midwest through Canada. Upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all saw the same phenomenon, in that order, where the deer kind of abandoned their - their- their big woods deer wintering areas and started coming to town."

Haskell says deer could survive one element, but combining competition for food, loss of wintering sites, and a new predator in the region has been detrimental to herds.

"They hadn't had a winter predator in probably 80 years, and they can flourish without a winter predator because they're not getting bumped and moving around all the time. So they came to town, probably for some security, people saw 'em, people started feedin' 'em, and it's a situation that just works for them now."

Haskell says the deer have not forgotten where they came from, there are pockets of deer in the woods through the winter, but hard winters, like 10 years ago, can be devastating for the herds. Now that spring has arrived, he says deer will be returning to the woods.