White-tailed Deer

Two deer walk along a walkway in a Fire Island community.

White-tailed deer on Fire Island

One of the most widely-distributed large mammals in North America, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), are common across Fire Island and at the William Floyd Estate, a unit of the seashore located on Long Island. While native to the Northeastern United States, deer were rarely seen on Fire Island in 1964 when the Seashore was established. Their numbers have increased dramatically since that time due to abundant food sources and a lack of predators.

Surveys conducted from 2016-2019 indicated there are roughly 400 deer on Fire Island and 100 at the William Floyd Estate, a unit of the Seashore located on Long Island. The number of deer however is not as important as the impacts these animals have on the condition of natural habitats and historic landscape at the William Floyd Estate.


Deer Impacts

Deer are herbivores and eat a wide variety of vegetation. Decades of vegetation monitoring in the globally rare Sunken Forest and elsewhere within the Seashore show deer have negatively impacted forest habitats and the historic landscape at the William Floyd Estate.

Native tree and shrub seedlings and saplings in forest habitats have been depleted by the overabundance of white-tailed deer. This prevents the forest from being able to mature and regenerate, and decreases habitat for a range of native wildlife species.

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 natural predators and with abundant food sources deer populations can double every two to three years.

Learn more about the research that helps the National Park Service better understand the impact of white-tailed deer on Fire Island habitats and supported the development of the White-tailed Deer Management Plan.

Deer Biology

The breeding season, or rut, for white-tailed deer in New York State typically occurs from October to January, with peak activity 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 spring. Occasionally, triplets or quadruplets are born.


Coexisting with Wildlife

We play an important role in preserving a balanced ecosystem, especially on Fire Island where people and nature coexist.

Some deer on Fire Island are accustomed to humans and tend not to flee. For this reason people can get very close to deer and, oftentimes, try to touch or feed them by hand. It is understandable that a close encounter with a wild animal in a natural setting is exciting. However it is best to maintain a safe distance in order to keep wildlife wild and to protect yourself from harm.

Never feed wildlife. Feeding deer can change their natural behaviors and may affect their overall health. This is even true of inadvertent food sources like garbage or unsecured food items. Wildlife can become "food-conditioned" and may look for food near public spaces or garbage cans.

Food-conditioning can lead to undesirable and potentially unsafe human-deer interactions. Food-conditioned deer may also be more likely to become entangled in fencing, approach us, or be struck by a vehicle when in search of food.

Commit to keep wildlife wild so you can keep yourself and white-tailed deer safe on Fire Island.

Last updated: January 24, 2020

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