by Susan B. Kelly
Most people associate deer with the forests or other rural or semi-rural areas. In San Mateo County people expect to see deer in the watershed area, on Skyline or on the open spaces along the coast. But in fact, deer can be seen throughout our county. Take a drive down Route 280 in the early morning or evening and you are guaranteed to see deer grazing up on the hillsides, if not along the freeway itself.
Very observant people notice that which deer they see depends on when they're looking. In the winter herds made up of does, fawns and bucks usually forage together. Come spring and summer, when the females have their young, you primarily see only the bucks grazing in the open. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has mature landscaping, and live west of the Alameda De Las Pulgas, you may also see does with their fawns in your yard.
Each year the Wildlife Care Center receives dozens of calls from people who think they have an abandoned fawn in their yard or have seen one on the side of the road. Our advice, baring any obvious signs of illness or injuries, it to leave the animal alone. It is not uncommon for a doe to leave her fawn for 12 hours, jump in the yard, nurse the fawn, and leave once again. If a well-intentioned individual brings an "abandoned" fawn to the humane society, we generally return the baby to their original location. Nine times out of 10 we find the doe there looking for her youngster. Occasionally, however, we do receive a true orphan; these we send to a specially trained volunteer who raises them. When the fawn becomes self-sufficient at five months of age, we release him.
Deer can become very imprinted on people, and our caregiver must take special precautions not to let the animal become attached to her. While fawns are undeniably cute, they are wild animals. They appear very gentle, yet are quite strong and have been known to injure people who try to restrain them. Adult deer are able to outrun a predator like a mountain lion, a coyote or -- in the urban or suburban setting -- a domestic dog.
Most deer herds in residential areas are accustomed to our daily movements. They know which yards have dogs and which have the best ornamental shrubbery and fruit trees. They quickly learn who is leaving food out for them -- a practice the Wildlife Care Center strongly discourages. (Leaving food out for wildlife can draw too many animals to one area, making them dependent on the food source and a potential nuisance to neighbors.)
In areas where deer are numerous, including the hills from Redwood City to San Bruno and the entire south end of the county, drivers should stay alert day and night for deer crossing the road. For the most part deer seem to know when traffic is most active and are pretty wary when out on the streets. But, come August, the bucks throw caution to the wind. This is when the rutting season begins and the male deer have other things on their minds. Once they get the scent of a female they simply follow their noses, often charging onto our highways and byways.
Consequently, more deer are hit by cars during this short two-month period than the entire rest of the year; the number of dead deer the humane society picks up off the roads reaches its peak. Once the season ends, the deer settle back into their herds and continue the daily business of survival.
First, accept the fact that deer and other wildlife are here to stay. Learn about their behaviors so you have a better understanding of what you can do to discourage them from coming around. If deer live in your neighborhood, be cautious when driving or riding a bike -- for your own safety as well as theirs. Landscape with plants that don't attract deer. Try different deterrents and fencing to keep them away. One of the most promising new devices is a motion detector sprinkler that senses movement and sends out a stream of water that frightens the animal away.
There are several helpful publications available, too. A Gardener's Guide to Preventing Deer Damage, available from the California Department of Fish & Game, illustrates different types of fencing and deer-resistant plants, and includes a list of companies offering products that deter deer. Another fine publication is Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife by the Humane Society of the United States; this is available through bookstores.
Each year PHS receives calls from people who want us to remove the deer from their neighborhood, along with raccoons, skunks and opossums, and take them back to the watershed "where they belong." Well, this just isn't possible. First, the law forbids relocating healthy wildlife. Second, it just doesn't help. These animals are not from the watershed; they were born and raised in our neighborhoods. Moving or trapping an animal out of an area only opens up a space for a new one to move in. Animals move into and stay in an area because it offers food, water and/or shelter. Our best advice: remove what is attracting the animals and in time their numbers will decrease.
(Susan B. Kelly is manager of the Wildlife Care Center at PHS. The center is always available to help with your wildlife concerns; please call 650/340-7022, ext. 340.)