As our island's deer population increases its foraging ahead of leaner winter months, we're more likely to spot them in our backyards or along roads. If you're especially lucky, you may encounter a rare piebald deer, the result of a genetic mutation that affects the pigmentation of the coat. The mutation becomes more common the more isolated deer populations are, so our island-bound deers' interbreeding may make the mutation more common here than in areas with larger territories.
The piebalds' unusual appearance has generated a considerable amount of myth and folklore. Native Americans consider the piebald as a spirit transitioning from this world to the spirit world, and that sighting one was an omen of impending change. In many Native American cultures, it's still strictly forbidden to kill a piebald deer, interrupting the soul's passage to the next world. Hunters have their own folk wisdom about taking a piebald, the more superstitious among them believing that killing a piebald puts a curse on future hunting success, or may even mean the hunter will die within a year.
Piebalds are not as rare as albino deer, which are typically pure white, and except for their mottled coats, are often as healthy as their normally colored brethren. But piebalds are more susceptible to abnormalities at birth, particularly malformed internal organs and spinal deformities, which severely reduce chances of post-natal survival. Some piebald adults may also have shortened or crooked legs, making it difficult for them to avoid predators. Fortunately, these misfortunes are rare; although the presence of numerous piebalds in any one deer population can be an indicator of excessive interbreeding and can reduce the overall health of a herd.
If you see a piebald, consider yourself fortunate to see an individual who's beaten the odds; and, who knows, letting you know that change may be in the air.