PSU Deer Study

Deer trapping season finished up around Easter this year. But deer trapping is just one chapter of research. The next chapter (at least in this project) is looking for what a deer leaves behind. Trapping crews morph into sanitation crews of sorts as they are now tasked with finding and collecting deer pellets for DNA analysis. It might not seem quite as exciting as wrestling deer but it’s just as important.

Deer-Forest Study

And who says looking for poop can’t be exciting? The woods are full of life and treasures this time of year. Looking beyond deer and their poop, the songs of returning warblers fill the air; the trilliums are blooming; grouse are drumming; bears back on the move; squirrels are being…well squirrels. You get the point. Penn’s Woods are more than just trees or deer. It is the whole that makes it special.

So while crews are out scouring the leaf litter for precious poop, they have the unique opportunity to experience the whole. At the end of day, the standard greeting among crew members is “Find anything cool?” Sometimes it’s an antler shed or a turkey feather. Sometimes it’s seeing the first scarlet tanager or garter snake of the season. Sometimes it’s the tail end of a bear as he disappears over the ridge. Sometimes it’s even better.

On one such pellet survey, a member of the crew had her eyes on the ground but her ears peeled. Among the breathing of the forest, she heard something else. Someone or something was crying. What gift was the forest going to give today? She started off towards the noise. It led her to the root ball of a downed tree where she spied the source. It was little and brown with floppy ears and blue eyes. And there was more than one!

Deer-Forest Study

What she had found were 3 coyote pups; one of which was none too happy. She took full advantage of this grand discovery to inspect the den. Underneath the root ball, the den was filled with dried cherry leaves. The leaves were not crushed or crumbled and there were no distinguishable trails or worn paths. The downed tree-side of the den had a smaller entrance. One pup was curled up on the end of the depression looking a bit like a fish out of water. The second who had been making his way to ground level froze upon discovery. The third was making his presence know with his chorus of discontent.

Deer-Forest Study

Not wanting to disturb or give away the location of the den to the surrounding eyes and ears of the forest (pup #3 was doing a good enough job of that himself); the crew member continued her search for deer poop and returned to the vehicle. She arrived to hear the standard greeting from everyone of course. And she was all too eager to share her discovery.

The crew, anxious to share in her find, headed back to the den the next day. The “Find anything cool?” crew was treated to a wriggling ball of fur containing 4 pups. Momma coyote was ¾’s of the way done relocating her litter when ¼ had started crying.

The forest is an outdoor nursery right now. Pups, poults, chicks, cubs, kits, fledglings, and fawns – all housed under the same canopy. All call Penn’s Woods home. All are part of our rich natural heritage.

So did you find anything cool today?

-Jeannine Fleegle
PGC biologist, Deer and Elk Section


Acknowledgment: Thanks to Beth Wojcik and Kelsey Wellington for sharing the info and photos.

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