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We share our island with many types of wildlife, but none more prevalent than the white-tailed deer population roaming our marshes and maritime forests. With few predators, the white-tails (Odocoileus virginianus) thrive here, to the point where periodic culls have to be undertaken to avoid overpopulation and over-competition for food.

White-tails are the official state animal of South Carolina (along with ten other states) and are abundant throughout the southeast - and, indeed, in most of the United States east of the Rockies. This time of year, their coats are gray/brown but darken to a deep reddish brown during the spring and summer, when females give birth to up to three fawns during May and June. The youngsters' spotted coats help conceal

Waiting for Mom

them in dense foliage while their mother searches for food and grazes some distance away. A fawn should never be disturbed if you happen upon one. Most likely its mother will return to it after feeding, and will actually avoid her fawn if she detects a human smell on or around it.

Along with their flicking white tails, the impressive antlers of the males are another trademark of the species. Bucks begin growing their antlers at about one year of age, at first as small nubbins, and regrow them every year starting in late spring. Some observers use rack size as an indicator of age, but nutrition is a more important factor in antler growth. Young bucks in a nutritionally supportive environment such as here on the island can grow an array as impressive as any older male. Antlers are used defensively during mating season to keep other males away from a female, and in play-fighting by young males to establish dominance within the herd. Antlers are also used to create scrape marks on tree trunks as a signal of the buck's presence to other bucks and to females ready for breeding.

Making scents

White tails communicate with each other vocally through a variety of grunts and snorts as well as by scent-marking using seven scent glands located on the head, legs, feet and genitalia. The waxy substance secreted from between the hooves is especially pungent, detectable even by human noses, particularly when a deer senses danger and stamps its feet as a warning to others.

Our island supplies plentiful grasses, legumes and acorns that form the white tail's diet. With the four-chambered stomach typical of a ruminant, deer can consume rough, woody plants and even foods toxic to humans, such as poison ivy and certain types of mushrooms, with no ill effects. And, of course, they may stop by to snack on your landscaping. Enjoy their presence as one of the pleasures of island life.

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