Smithfield Urban Deer

Smithfield Urban Deer: Click for a larger view of Mule Deer, Odocoileus hemionus, Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer

Mule DeerOdocoileus hemionus
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer 
As I look out my front window, 7 mule deer are cavorting, feeding, with some lying down for a mid-day siesta. With the final week of the regular season deer hunt winding down, some have taken sanctuary from the nimrods to join the urban herd.

For our 30 years in Smithfield canyon, deer have been regulars, disappearing for the most part from mid-May to mid-June to give birth, as do the bucks, perhaps somewhat embarrassed with strange bumps forming on their crowns.
Spotted fawns begin adorning our lawn in mid-July. With enough speed to outrun all but the fastest predator’s, mom drops her guard a bit. Bucks begin parading their new, fully formed head gear.

As fall and winter approach, the neighborhood herd grows, with a few dozen hanging out when winter finally sets in. Their snow trails through the yard become conspicuous, further defined with sprinkles of fecal material. Out back the steep hillside across Summit Creek becomes a winter playground as small groups run repeatedly up and down and around. Apparently, their abundant stores of energy allow them to break winter’s lethargy. This is generally not the case for deer in the wilds where every calorie is conserved for winter hardships as snow deepens and temperatures plunge.

We’ve witnessed a few humorous behaviors during our 3 decades of observation. Deer are very curious which occasionally works against their best interests. We had an especially aggressive rooster who became our “feathered” watchdog. A small deer herd passing through the front yard noticed the stocky cock guarding the front door and decided on closer inspection. The lead deer approached stretching his neck and tender nose to get a closer whiff. Old roaster rooster gave her a welcoming sharp jab to the nose which sent the herd bounding off.
On another occasion, our tomcat found itself taking refuge under the trampoline as 4 deer approached from a patch of forest. The cat’s movement piqued the deer’s curiosity. They surrounded the trampoline, bent down on front knees with noses poked underneath for a close-up. Poor tom was terrified- to be munched by a deer- what a horrible end!

Of course, we realize that not everyone is enamored with deer in their space. Deer can be a nuisance causing damage to landscapes and gardens. With proper fencing and plant selection, this can be managed. A greater concern is safety, vehicle-deer collisions. Here again, with proper signage, this can be minimized. I’ve experienced close encounters on my bike, so always go slow when deer appear near or on the roadway.
An excellent resource for landscaping is found at wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/deer-browse.php Blending a variety of native and ornamental plants into a home landscape can create a highly attractive environment for family, friends, mule deer and other wildlife species. Enhancing the home environment and replacing some of the lost wildlife habitat can be enjoyable and beneficial.

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society


Additional Reading:

Copeland, H. E., H. Sawyer, K. L. Monteith, D. E. Naugle, A. Pocewicz, N. Graf, and M. J. Kauffman. 2014.
Conserving migratory mule deer through the umbrella of sage-grouse. Ecosphere 5(9):117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES14-00186.1
https://www.fws.gov/greatersagegrouse/documents/research/muledeer_mig_grouse_14-00186.pdf

Mule Deer, Species-Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=odochemi

Mule Deer, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/learn-more/mule-deer.html

Cats vs. Wildlife

Rooster, the Stokes Nature Center Housecat
Felis silvestris catus
Copyright 2013
Andrea Liberatore, Photographer

This past winter we took on a new staff member at the Stokes Nature Center. In exchange for room and board, he lives in our building and is on call 24 hours a day. He’s arguably our most popular employee, but I’m not jealous. Rooster is, after all, cuter than me. He’s also a cat.

As one of the only buildings for miles around, we attract a lot of mice. Taking on a cat seemed like a fun and ecological answer to a frustrating long-term problem. Obviously, this isn’t a new idea. Cats and humans have been coexisting for thousands of years – probably since the time our ancestors were developing agriculturally-based societies in the Middle East 12,000 years ago. With agriculture came grain storage, and with grain storage came mice. Cats quickly became an important part of our food security system.

As humans spread around the globe, our newly domesticated feline friends came along too. But while most of us keep cats for reasons other than their hunting prowess these days, they have retained the skills that attracted us to them in the first place. Cats are predators. Even when they’re fed at home, and have no need for additional calories, their hunting instincts don’t dissipate. A recent study estimated that cats in the US alone kill around 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals every year. These statistics make cats the number one anthropogenic threat to wildlife.

Utah’s wildlife evolved in an environment void of small feline predators, and their behaviors reflect this. Ground-nesting birds such as quail, nightjars, and killdeer are especially prone to predation. Domestic cats are a non-native species against which many of our birds and mammals have few defenses.

So what can you do to help? The most straightforward answer is to keep your cat indoors. If however, you insist he goes out, there are still a few things you can do to keep neighborhood animals a little safer. Attaching a bell to your cat’s collar can warn wildlife that she’s around. If your yard is a haven for birds and mammals, provide dense vegetation for them to take refuge in. And of course, spay and neuter cats to avoid bringing any more unwanted felines into the world. There are already more stray and feral cats in the US than there are loving homes for them. Controlling cat populations can save the lives of millions of birds and small mammals.

If the welfare of birds and mammals isn’t enough to motivate you, consider that research shows your cat is safer, and will live longer, if kept indoors. An innovative study by the University of Georgia – dubbed ‘Kitty Cams’ – can give you a sense of what your cat might be up to during the day. Small cameras attached to the collars of housecats record not only wildlife kills, but also fights with neighborhood dogs and opossums, and trips into storm sewers, across busy roads, and into the undercarriages of parked cars.

So far, Rooster is earning his keep. We have noticed a wonderful decrease in nibbled-on file folders and tiny footprints in desktop dust. But we don’t want our outdoor critters to decrease in numbers, and so despite his (sometimes very vocal) desires, he will remain an indoor feline. For the sake of all our Utah wildlife, I hope you consider doing the same.

For a photo of Rooster, a link to the Kitty Cams site, and more suggestions on keeping wildlife safe from cats, visit our website at www.wildaboututah.org .

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & © Andrea Liberatore
Text:    Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org

Additional Reading:

Loss, S. R., Will, T., Marra, P. P. (2013) The Impact of Free-ranging Domestic Cats on Wildlife of the United States. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1396 Accessible online at: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v4/n1/abs/ncomms2380.html

Angier, Natalie (2013) That Cuddly Kitty is Deadlier Than You Think. New York Times. Published January 29, 2013. Accessible online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/science/that-cuddly-kitty-of-yours-is-a-killer.html

The National Geographic & University of Georgia Kitty Cams (Crittercam) Project: A window into the world of free-roaming cats. Accessible online at: http://www.kittycams.uga.edu/

National Audubon Society. (2013) Reducing Threats from Cats. Available online at: http://web4.audubon.org/bird/at_home/safecats.html

Zax, David (2007) A Brief History of House Cats. Smithsonian Institution. Accessible online at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/brief_cats.html