Observing white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) behavior in Northwestern Vermont Using Trail Cameras
Subjecttrail cameras; white-tailed deer; behavior; Vermont; habitat; temperature; activity; diel movement
Trail cameras are an increasingly popular and reliable non-invasive technique in wildlife ecology surveys. They have proven to be reliable, cost-efficient, and critical tools for gaining understanding of common and elusive species in a cost-effective manner. The purpose of this study was to observe white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) behavior (e.g., foraging, yard preference, social group) in rural, urban, and agricultural edge sites in northwestern Vermont with the use of trail cameras. I predicted in colder temperatures and deeper snow, white-tailed deer (Ododoileus virginianus) would decrease daily activities and increase group size, as well as prefer densely forested areas for protection. I also predicted white-tailed deer to be most active in dawn/dusk hours. Species richness was greatest in camera observations at the rural (n = 6), agricultural edge (n = 5), and urban sites (n = 3). White-tailed deer were observed three times as often in spring 2016 as compared to fall 2015. Predators were observed at all sites and included eastern coyote (Canis latrans) and red (Vulpes vulpes) and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Camera data suggest that deer were observed more often in urban and agricultural edge habitat in the fall, whereas more observations occurred in rural habitats in the spring. Patterns in diel activity show that white-tailed deer were most active at dusk, dawn, and during crepuscular hours equally at the agricultural edge, urban, and rural sites, respectively. Habitat-specific thermal properties were observed as white-tailed deer were observed most often at temperatures between (31 - 40°F) at agricultural edge and urban, and (11 - 20°F) at rural sites. Habitat-specific behavioral changes were noted such that at the agricultural edge and urban site, the white-tailed deer displayed vigilance, foraging, and walking proportionally throughout the study, whereas at the rural site walking and foraging were the most common behaviors. White-tailed deer are common to New England forests and serve as excellent species for study using non-invasive techniques, such as game cameras. Landscape- and stand-level habitat characteristics appear to influence white-tailed deer behavior as one considers moderation of temperature, diel movement, and grouping.
Student poster, Center for Earth and Environmental Science, SUNY Plattsburgh