White-tailed Deer Biology

Doe and fawn stand in grass

NPS Photo/Robert Leventhal, 2012 Fire Island National Seashore Wildlife Photo Contest Entry

One of the most widely-distributed large mammals in North America, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), can be found at Fire Island National Seashore. While native to the Northeastern United States and Atlantic barrier islands, deer were not numerous on Fire Island in 1964 when the park was established. Their numbers have increased dramatically since that time due to abundant food sources and a lack of natural predators.

Deer are prevalent across Fire Island: from the Fire Island communities on the western end of the island, to the undeveloped Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness on the eastern end. Deer are also abundant at the William Floyd Estate, a unit of Fire Island National Seashore located on Long Island.

Basic Deer Biology

White-tailed deer typically live six to ten years but may live longer on Fire Island because there are no natural predators. It has been shown that without predators and with abundant food sources, deer populations can double every two to three years.

The breeding season (or "rut") for white-tailed deer in New York State typically occurs from October to January, with peak activity occurring in mid-November.

Male deer, or "bucks," can be identified during the breeding season by their antlers, which they grow and shed annually. Antlers consist of bone, cartilage, and blood vessels. For a portion of the breeding season, antlers are covered by a living tissue called "velvet." The growth and shape of antlers depends largely on nutrition and genetics. Antlers remain intact for mating displays and territorial defenses throughout the breeding season and are typically shed in late fall or early winter.

Female deer, or does, give birth to one or two fawns in mid to late spring. Occasionally, triplets or quadruplets are born.

White-tailed Deer at Fire Island National Seashore

Deer are herbivores, and eat a wide variety of vegetation on Fire Island and at the William Floyd Estate. Decades of vegetation monitoring in the globally rare Sunken Forest and elsewhere within the Seashore show deer have impacted the ecosystem and threaten the ability of Seashore forests to regenerate naturally.

There are roughly 300 deer on Fire Island and 100 at the William Floyd Estate. Deer density, or the number of deer per square mile, varies widely between locations on Fire Island.

The number of deer however is not as important as the impacts these animals have on vegetation and forest regeneration and on the cultural landscape at the William Floyd Estate.

Learn more about Deer Research and Monitoring at Fire Island National Seashore and White-tailed Deer Management Plan.

Last updated: December 21, 2016