Beyond Your Backyard - Urban Deer Where Least Expected
By Kimberly J Epp
Moose Jaw is a quaint little city, and full of more urban wildlife than one would realize.
I have plenty of different species visiting my bird feeders on a daily basis. But if you take a walk along the trails of Crescent Park, you will see several signs of the wild creatures that also reside here. These signs include hare tracks, weasel tracks, squirrel tracks, winter bird tracks, and tracks and scat from the Mule Deer who call the area their winter home.
I took these photos last winter, and one would think that they had been taken in a wild area - not just down the block from the library, the spa, and the city’s bustling downtown. These deer are quite used to humans, however you must still be quiet and give them the space and respect they deserve. If you would like to view wildlife within the city, however, you needn’t go farther than Crescent Park itself.
Mule Deer, such as this, settle into comfortable herds to help keep them safe from predators. They put on a layer of fat and grow another layer of coarse, gray fur to help them survive the cold temperatures. During blustery days, they will often bed down to conserve energy in areas offering them shelter. They are crepuscular, most active in the early morning and late evening, I took these photos on a windy, cold day when the temperature was a frigid -30 Celsius.
Mule Deer differ from White-Tailed Deer in a number of ways. The most common differences include their ears, tail and gait. Mule Deer have larger, almost rabbit-like ears. In fact, they get their name from those large mule-like ears. They have a skinnier black-tipped, rope-like tail, which does not flip up like the white-tail’s. They jump almost like rabbits when they run, almost like a stiff legged bouncing. Their zig- zagged rough bouncing helps them deter predators and handle the rough terrain.
In Saskatchewan, Mule Deer usually breed in November.
In the summer, the males can be distinguished by their antlers, as the does do not have antlers. These antlers begin growing in April, and shed in December or January. Mule Deer can live up to 10 years in the wild, but the average lifespan is only 4 to 5 years. Does breed as early as 1 and ½ years, and can have one or two fawns which they care for until the next breeding season.
Once you have looked into the eyes of one of these gentle giants, you cannot help but be in awe. There is certainly no shortage of wildlife-viewing sites within Moose Jaw. So why not head out and check out the Mule Deer and other wildlife within Crescent Park this winter?
Stay tuned for my upcoming column about our earliest nesting bird. Can you guess HOO I am referring to?
Epp is an Environmental Writer, a former columnist with the now defunct Moose Jaw Times-Herald and is also the President and Field Trip Coordinator of the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She may be reached on the nature society’s Facebook page or at email@example.com.