Behrend, D.F. 1966. Behavior of white-tailed deer in an Adirondack forest. Ph.D. Dissertation, SUNY ESF, Syracuse, 206 pp.

Abstract: The behavior of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus borealis, Miller) was studied on a 15,000 acre forest in the Adirondack Mountains from June 1963 through February, 1966. Distribution and activity were investigated by counts of 24-hour accumulations of tracks on forest roads, and activity, ranging, social behavior, aquatic feeding behavior, and response to human disturbance were studied by observation of deer along roadsides and lakeshores.

Deer were uniformly distributed from May through November, but from May through July local concentrations occurred where food or minerals occurred in concentrated abundance. Distribution from May through October was essentially independent of forest type, physiography, and changes in cover. The trend toward concentration in coniferous shelter types began in November, and during the winter and early spring areas with continuous coniferous overhead cover were favored by deer. The trend toward concentration was most closely associated with increasing frequency of occurrence of severe windchill in November and December, but once concentration was established, distribution was more closely associated with changes in the depth to which deer sank in the snow. Reduced use of coniferous shelter types from mid-March through April was associated with decreasing frequency of occurrence of severe windchill.

Slight differences were found in temperature and relative humidity within a wintering area, but differences in wind were great between exposed and sheltered locations. Wind was consistently least in the conifer type, where snow was somewhat shallower than in other types. Deer bedding was closely associated with the extent of coniferous crown cover in the different types, and bed sites were usually located in areas where the snow was shallower than average.

Limited observations of marked deer indicated that some animals wintered on restricted portions of their summer-fall ranges, while others apparently wintered on distinctly different ranges. Summer movements varied considerably, with some individuals appearing quite sedentary, while others moved between one and two miles in less than 24 hours.

Activity was highest in May and June, intermediate in November (during the rut), and lowest in March and October. Mid-winter activity was variable, and could not be compared to that of other seasons due to restrictions on distribution.

From March through October 24-hour activity levels were significantly correlated with hours of daylight, but not with maximum daily temperature or minimum daily relative humidity. Thus, while 76% of the variation in activity was attributable to the three variables in combination, 74% was attributable to day length alone. Other correlation analyses for activity over the summer consistently confirmed the correlation between activity and day length. This correlation may be tentatively explained on the basis of the results of studies of captive white-tails which indicate the same general patterns for feed consumption and basal metabolism. Thus, the activity pattern observed is most likely the result of changes in light acting on the pituitary, with the resultant control of metabolism through the pituitary-thyroid axis.

Prolonged storms at any season resulted in lowered activity, although activity appeared to be increased immediately prior to, and during the early stages of snowstorms. In January and February 24-hour activity levels were positively correlated with maximum daily temperature, but not with other measures of temperature, relative humidity, wind, windchill, or snowdepth. In summer, relative humidity was negatively correlated with daytime activity at a lake. Daytime activity patterns indicated that midday summer temperatures were generally insufficient to depress deer activity. Nighttime activity in summer was more closely associated with weather prior to the spotlighting period than with weather during the counting period, but only temperature was significantly correlated (positively).

No marked relationships were observed between deer activity and seasonal changes in food and cover, changes in abundance of biting flies, nor changes in human activity.

Throughout most of the summer most adult females were seen alone or with their newborn fawns, while yearlings were alone or with other yearlings. Adult males were either solitary, or associated almost exclusively with other adult males.

Deer use of a lake was found to be closely associated with the abundance, distribution, and condition of aquatic food plants, and not related to abundance of biting flies.

Deer appeared to react less markedly to disturbance by humans and vehicles in summer, than at other seasons. A broad trend of less pronounced response occurred from March through July, and reversed from July through the winter.