PSU Deer Study

People drift in and out of our lives all the time.  Think back to high school.  You might not even recognize people you saw on a daily basis back then.  You remember your shared history fondly, but time and circumstance has replaced them with others.  

With thousands of deer captured and tagged over the last 2 decades, the same thing happens with study animals.  We lose track of deer as projects are completed and radio-collar battery life wanes.

But it’s always nice to reconnect.  Doe 8101 was captured in the first year of The Deer-Forest Study (2013).  We tracked her movements for the next 5 years.  With battery life dwindling, we signaled the drop mechanism on the collar to retrieve it for refurbishment and future deployment. Unfortunately, we never received the signal that the collar dropped off the deer and we figured it was a collar failure.

Despite this un-dramatic ending, there are two interesting stories about Doe 8101. I’ll get to the second story later, but first Doe 8101 made an annual pilgrimage to the east every March. Not many deer exhibit these types of movements, but we’ve had several examples in the past. Some have summer homes and some have bachelor pads.

It looks like Doe 8101 takes a late winter vacation. Here are her locations for 2013.  Most of the year is spent in an area with a number of timber sales (plenty of food!!) but come March she treks several kilometers to the east.

Home range in 2013:

The obvious question is “Why?” And the obvious answer is “Who knows!” But of course we can speculate.

The area to the east has a southern aspect, so maybe the snow cover is reduced this time of year in those eastern locations.  We don’t see traditional yarding behavior in Pennsylvania deer, but they will shift their locations to more southerly aspects where snow depths are likely less taking advantage of the sun’s energy.

Or maybe she just likes the view that time of year.  Either way, she did it almost every year that we recorded her movements. 

Home range in 2014:

Home range in 2015:

In 2016 she did return to the area but only for two days in January! In 2017 she didn’t return at all, and after May 2017 we rarely got locations because the batteries were failing.

An interesting mystery for sure.  But like many of our interesting subjects, we completely lost touch with Doe 8101 after we received her location and attempted to drop her collar in January 2018.

In fact, later that month we found her collar in a pond! It was an inexplicable event. Was she harvested or poached and her collar dumped there? Was she hit by a car? What probably happened was someone found the collar and thought they would be smart and dropped it in a pond. Too bad for them – we got the collar back anyway!

But also guess what?  She just ran into a friend and sends her regards!  She’s alive and well…and still doing the mom thing.  

When we met her in 2013, she was at least 1.75 years old which means she is at least 7.5 years old today.  She hasn’t reached “old lady” status yet like some of our alumni.  She is squarely middle-aged which of course the is best age if you’re a deer.

We were happy to get a glimpse of Doe 8101 after all this time.  But seeing her left us with another question.  Did she teach some of her fawns to take those same annual vacations in March?!?

-Duane Diefenbach

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