15 Wonderful White-Tailed Deer Facts

two white-tailed deer munch on green shrub with red flowers

Treehugger / Autumn Wood

Fuzzy, shy, and downright adorable, white-tailed deer are among the most abundant creatures in America’s woodlands. Adults are characterized by their reddish-brown coats, which fade to a grayer brown from summer to winter. They have excellent eyesight and hearing, and are even good enough swimmers to escape predators by crossing rivers or lakes with relative ease.

From how they got their name to the story behind their booming population in the United States, explore these 15 wonderful facts about white-tailed deer.

1. White-Tailed Deer Are Found in Central and North America

Even though they are native to North America, white-tailed deer have extended their range through Central America to Bolivia. Still, the vast majority live in southern Canada and throughout the mainland United States. They prefer open woodland but can also be found on the outskirts of developed urban areas and even near agricultural lands and cactus-filled deserts. An ideal habitat for a white-tailed deer consists of dense thickets of shrubs in which to hide and feed.

2. They Are the Most Common Deer Species in North America

Whitetail deer herd swimming across a river
Whitetail deer herd swimming across a river in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Larry Keller, Lititz Pa. / Getty Images

The IUCN estimates the population of white-tailed deer in the United States to number over 11 million, and about a third live in the state of Texas. The white-tailed deer range has pushed farther up into Canada due to habitat loss, and there are believed to be half a million of them there already. Numbers in North America are stable and abundant, but in Mexico, Central America, and South America, most populations are declining.

3. Only Some Individuals Migrate

Experts believe that populations of white-tailed deer who live in low-quality home ranges are more likely to migrate to different locations in the summer. In contrast, those who are lucky enough to live in regions with better weather and more food abundance typically stay put throughout the year. Researchers studying white-tailed deer in Washington state have found that, surprisingly, survival rates for both migrating and non-migrating groups are nearly identical. In fact, annual survival rates for migrating deer were slightly higher, at 0.85 compared to non-migratory individuals at 0.84.

4. White-Tailed Deer Grazing Can Influence the Ecosystem

Since white-tailed deer are so abundant, their grazing can significantly affect the composition of plants within their habitats. Throughout the northern United States, tree seedling abundance decreases when white-tailed deer density grows above 5.8 individuals per square kilometer (0.38 square miles) in most forests. Introduced or non-native plant species, however, increase in areas with higher deer density. As ruminant animals, they typically feed on what’s most available to them, their four-chambered stomachs allowing them to digest anything from leaves, twigs, moss, and even fungi. They also consume the buds of maple trees, poplar trees, birch trees, and shrubs, switching to hardier plants and conifers in the winter when food becomes scarce.

5. They Often Live Alone

A white-tailed deer fawn and doe in Canada
Jim Cumming / Getty Images

One would think that such a populous species would prefer to live in large groups, but the white-tailed deer is generally a solitary creature. They tend to live alone, especially during the summer months, and males and females only interact during mating season. Most of the time, if you see multiple deer together, it is either a female (called a "doe") and her babies (called "fawns") or a small group of young adult males (called "bucks"). 

6. Disney’s Bambi Was Modeled After a White-Tailed Deer

A young white-tailed deer fawn in a meadow
KenCanning / Getty Images

According to the New England Historical Society, one of Disney’s earliest animators helped bring white-tailed deer to the big screen in 1942. Walt Disney himself hired Maurice Day for the film, and the artist would reportedly settle for nothing less than a white-tailed deer from his home state of Maine as the model for the young fawn. As a result, two 4-month-old deer were transported from Maine to Hollywood after a four-day train ride across the country to model Bambi, and the rest is cinematic history.

7. They Live Three Times Longer in Captivity Than in the Wild

Most wild white-tailed deer live to about two or three years old, and most adults don’t make it past 10. On the other hand, deer held in captivity can live up to three times longer than their wild counterparts, something scientists believe has to do specifically with the difference in diet. Not only do captive white-tailed deer deal with significantly less stress because they aren’t required to find their own food, but studies have found that their diets contain more protein and less carbon.

8. Only Bucks Grow Antlers

Two white-tailed deer males sparring
Lynn_Bystrom / Getty Images

Female white-tailed deer don’t have antlers, but males begin growing them at just a few months old. Made of a combination of bone and keratin (the same material that makes up human hair and fingernails), antlers are used to attract females and to spar against other males to assert dominance. It has been well-documented that both body size and antler size are positively associated with annual breeding success among males, and older males with larger antlers are more likely to breed than those with smaller ones. Males shed their antlers every year, a completely natural process caused by a drop in testosterone after the end of mating season.

9. White-Tailed Deer Are Important Prey Animals for Large Predators

Although humans remain the largest predator for white-tailed deer, they are also preyed on by wolves, mountain lions, bears, jaguars, and coyotes. This predator-prey relationship is especially important to the local food chain and can leave more room for the survival of stronger, healthier animals, and also help control the spread of disease through population control.

10. They Are the Smallest of North America’s Deer Species

With an average height between 31 and 39 inches at the shoulders, white-tailed deer are smaller than other North American species. While white-tailed deer and mule deer are the only species native to the United States, there are also caribou, moose (the largest member of the deer family), brocket deer, and elk that now call North America home.

11. They Can Run 30 Miles per Hour and Jump Higher Than 8 Feet

A white-tailed deer buck jumping over a tall fence
Betty4240 / Getty Images

White-tailed deer have been recorded bounding speeds of up to 30 miles per hour through the forest, and researchers have found that their jumping abilities are even more impressive. A study in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that wild deer could jump fences just under 8 feet tall. After the experiment, they surveyed over 150 wildlife biologists who routinely observe deer close to fences and found at least six who said they had witnessed a deer jumping a 7.87-foot fence.

12. White-Tailed Deer Are Known for Their Grunts

From snorts to bleats, white-tailed does and fawns make a variety of sounds. Males, however, are especially known for their loud grunts, which they make to show their dominance to other bucks nearby. Adults and offspring will also make soft grunts to communicate with each other, but they are often much longer and quieter than a buck grunt. These aggressive buck grunts are strictly social, used to announce their presence in the area and send a message to other males.

13. They Can Weigh Up to 300 Pounds

Despite being the smallest of the North American deer, white-tailed deer can still hold their own in terms of weight. A mature buck may weigh anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds, while females show much more variety in size, averaging 90 to 200 pounds.

14. White-Tails Make Up Most of the United States Hunting Industry

Each year, the National Deer Association reports on the hunting status of the North American population of white-tailed deer. In 2018, deer harvest went up in the states of Kentucky, Missouri, New England, New York, and Wisconsin. The year 2017 saw a total of 2,878,998 bucks killed throughout the United States, up 2% from the previous year. Texas, which also holds the highest concentration of white-tailed deer in the country, shot the most bucks (506,809), and Rhode Island shot the least (782).

15. They’re Named for Their White Tails

True to its name, the white-tailed deer has a white tail, though only on the underside; the top of its tail maintains the same light brown color as the rest of its body. When a white-tailed deer is alarmed or senses danger, it flips its tail up to display the white underside in a motion called “flagging.” Apart from being white on the bottom, their tails are also larger and broader than other deer species.