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How The Hen House Turns: Urban Deer

on December 20, 2017 - 7:02am
Courtesy photo
Formerly of Los Alamos
While living beside the canyons of Los Alamos, one learns to get along with deer—or not. I would recommend it.
They are beautiful animals and don’t eat more apples than their share. A large buck was very careful to take no more than one bite out of the three huge green tomatoes that I had laboriously watered all summer in the only sunny spot in our front yard.
There was a chance that those tomatoes might have ripened. Maybe. It was late August. Maybe not. A few days later the deer came back and nibbled a little from each native bush. As when conserving tomatoes, deer know better than to destroy their native food supply.
They also know (during hunting season) where it is safe to hang out. That’s when they are seen most often around town. It’s the same here in the hills of California. Deer raise their young in the green space reserve nearby—where there is a lot of human bicycle and foot traffic. In our three years here we have seen coyote scat only once. Some deer sleep in our backyard or in the nearby courtyard with their newborn.
Recently, the whole family—does, bucks and last year’s fawns—have been spending nights beneath the oaks on the slope we call Reservoir Hill. Since I walk up that hill nearly every morning, the deer know me—at least they know my blue jacket. As I pass by, they check me out then continue grazing on the new grass. (We had a good rain two weeks ago.)
One morning, husband Don and I watched the deer as two males—a young buck and another huge one with a large rack of antlers—faced each other, bowed, and moved their foreheads together. Slowly, the large deer pushed against the young buck, who pushed back slowly. They moved back and forth for a moment, then continued grazing.
A few moments later they faced each other again, slowly bowed, then pushed gently back and forth a few times. It seemed very much like a friendly training session—either that or a fatherly reminder to the young buck how much he had to grow. I will never forget that mindful encounter. I have never seen one like it—so unlike violent clashes we see on nature videos.
I’ve often wondered how much we don’t know about animals, simply because we choose too often to focus on drama or because we make too many assumptions based on too little evidence.