White-tailed deer are one of the most studied and talked about species in the state.
White-tailed deer are one of the four species of the North American Deer family. Elk, mule deer and moose are the other three. White-tails are the most numerous and widely distributed member of the deer family. They live in a wide variety of habitats, from southern Canada to Central America.
Their population over this range is estimated to be 25 million. In Vermont, deer are found in the mountains, river valleys, agricultural lands, and even in backyard suburbs.
Deer are completely vegetarian. They eat a variety of leaves, twigs, and nuts. In Vermont, a deer's diet consists of maple, ash, birch twigs and leaves. Small plants, grasses, and fruit and nuts such as apples, acorns, and beech nuts also are important foods. In order to get the nutrition from such a wide variety of food that is hard to digest, a deer has four stomachs-just like a cow. This helps deer digest food that a human couldn't possibly digest.
White-tails are very adaptable and occupy a wide range of habitat types. In Vermont, deer are found statewide. Known as a species that prefers forest "edge," they occur in highest numbers in habitats that feature a blend of large woodlots and agricultural openings. Because they are so adaptable, they also are found in more limited numbers in the expansive forests of the Green Mountains and the Northeast Kingdom.
In its northern range, deer winter areas or "deer yards" are a critically important habitat type for deer to survive through the cold winter. Only 7-8% of Vermont's forests make up such wintering areas. An important part of a deer yard is the evergreen trees that catch the snow in their branches, thus reducing snow depth underneath. The trees also provide thermal cover that gives the deer protection from the wind. Deer may move 10 to 15 miles to go to a yard and stay in the protection of the area all winter.
Source: Vermont Fish & Wildlife Website
The moose is the world's largest member of the deer family. Moose are generally associated with northern forests in North America, Europe, and Russia. Moose are long-legged and heavy bodied with a drooping nose, a "bell" or dewlap under the chin, and a small tail. Their color ranges from golden brown to almost black, depending upon the season and the age of the animal. The hair of newborn calves is generally red-brown fading to a lighter rust color within a few weeks. Newborn calves weigh 28 to 35 pounds and within five months grow to more than 300 pounds. Males in prime condition weigh from 1,200 to 1,600 pounds. Adult females weigh 800 to 1,300 pounds. Only the bulls have antlers. In the wild, moose rarely live more than 16 years.
Cow moose generally breed at 28 months, though some may breed as young as 16 months. Calves are born any time from mid-May to early June after a gestation period of about 230 days. Cows give birth to twins 15 to 75 percent of the time and triplets may occur once in every thousand births. A cow moose defends her newborn calf vigorously. The maternal bond is generally maintained until calves are 12 months old at which time the mother aggressively chases her offspring from the immediate area just before she gives birth.
Moose breed in the fall with the peak of the "rut" activities coming in late September and early October. Adult males joust during the rut by bringing their antlers together and pushing. Serious battles are rare. The winner usually mates with the female. By late October, adult males have exhausted their summer accumulation of fat and their desire for female company. Once again they begin feeding. Antlers are shed as early as November, but mostly in December and January.
Moose are generally associated with the northern forests in North America, Europe and Russia. In Vermont, moose are found in greatest numbers in the Northeast Kingdom and Green Mountain regions. Moose prefer wetland areas in the summer. Preferred habitat outside of summer are stands of balsam fir, white birch and aspen, interspersed with semi-open areas and swamps or lakes that offer cover and aquatic plants for food. The home range for a moose is a radius of two to 10 miles, if adequate year-round food is available.
Whether they are alone in the forest, viewed through a chance sighting, or hunted in the timeless tradition of obtaining food from the land, Vermont's bears provide a vital connection with our natural and wild heritage.
Eastern black bears require forests for survival, but not just any wooded area will do. Bears need stands of oak and beech trees that produce nuts for food in summer and fall. Bears also need wetland forest habitat, where they get food in spring. Because bears use different habitats seasonally, they must also have a way to move among them. Bears travel through "corridors" to move across roads or through developed areas from one habitat area to another.
Bears are large animals, and they require large, unbroken areas of habitat. Through careful management of habitat, today's Vermont black bear population is robust. But, bears face continuing pressures on their habitats from things like highways and unrestricted development. When these forces break up bear habitat and travel corridors, bears face the challenge of "fragmentation." Habitat fragmentation causes many problems for bears. It restricts them from moving about their home ranges. It reduces their supply of natural food. It increases the chance of collisions with automobiles. Perhaps worst, it cause them to come in more frequent contact with people. If we are able to keep our bear population healthy, we must find ways to prevent and minimize fragmentation of their habitat.
Wild turkeys represent one of Vermont's greatest conservation success stories. By the mid-1800s turkey had been extirpated in Vermont by unregulated hunting and intensive forest clearing, which destroyed turkey habitat. In 1969 the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department obtained 17 wild turkeys from southwestern New York and released them in Pawlet. The following year, 14 more wild turkeys were released in Hubbardton. With constant monitoring and management by the department, the population has expanded today to approximately 45,000 to 50,000 birds.
The reproductive cycle for the wild turkey begins in the spring. As the days get longer and warmer, Toms (male turkeys) can be heard gobbling and can occasionally be seen strutting to attract hens. Turkeys are polygamous, meaning they mate with multiple partners, and most of the breeding is done by a relatively few dominant gobblers. The peak of turkey breeding in Vermont occurs in mid-April. The nest is a slight depression in the forest litter situated near vegetation which provides concealment. Turkey eggs are larger than chicken eggs and are tan with brown flecks. An average clutch is ten to fifteen eggs laid over a twelve to eighteen day period. Incubation takes twenty-eight days. The hatching occurs during the end of May to the first of June.
The spring period is when the birds are in their best condition as they put on weight for the coming breeding season. Adult gobblers may range from sixteen to twenty-five pounds, with juveniles (yearlings) weighing around twelve to fifteen pounds. Hens are slightly smaller, with the adults at nine to fourteen pounds and juveniles ranging seven to ten pounds.
Vermont is on the northern edge of wild turkey range in America. Winter weather conditions and habitat are the big limiting factors. Deep snow is one serious problem for the birds, and a shortage of mast-producing trees is another. Consequently, Vermont wild turkeys often stay in their roost trees during the worst weather conditions.
Food for the wild turkey varies widely with the seasons. During spring and summer, grasses and the high protein of insects are important food sources. During the first several weeks of life, poults (young turkeys) will subsist solely on insects. By late summer and fall, fruits and nuts are their most favored foods. Beechnuts, hophornbean seeds and acorns are especially favored by turkeys. Food becomes scarce when snow begins to accumulate. Turkeys are basically ground feeders and when a poor nut crop is followed by deep snow, winter mortality is likely to occur. Under snow covered conditions, birds must rely on food which falls on top of the snow, herbaceous vegetation protruding through the snow, or insects, grasses, fleshy root tubers and seeds they can find in spring seeps or on patches of bare ground.