There are many different kinds of deer in the world. This lesson will teach you about white-tailed deer, where they live, what they like to eat and how they use the white tail that gave them their name.

What Is a White-Tailed Deer?

Imagine walking through a forest in the early morning. The sun is streaming through the leaves, the air is cool and the birds are singing. Off in the trees, you see a shadowy figure watching you carefully. As you begin to walk toward it, it runs off and all you can see is a white streak darting away. You’ve just seen a white-tailed deer!

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The white-tailed deer is the smallest of the North American deer and has a tail that is white underneath. In the summer, most of their fur is a reddish color, whereas in the winter, they are a duller, brownish-gray color.

The white fur under its tail stays white all year long. This white fur acts like a flag–if a white-tailed deer is scared, it will wag its tail and raise it to show its white part. This lets other deer in the area know there’s trouble. The white color also helps baby deer, called fawns, keep track of their mothers when they a’re running together. It’s like a sign that says, ‘Follow me!’

Female white-tailed deer
Female White-Tailed Deer

White-tailed deer can run up to 30 miles per hour, but they aren’t just fast runners. They’re good at jumping and swimming, too, like Olympic athletes. Those skills help them dodge enemies who want to eat them, including people who hunt them for meat.

Antlers: What Do They Do?

The male white-tailed deer, called bucks, grow antlers on their heads. The females, called does, don’t have any antlers.

White-tail bucks have antlers.
White-tail Buck with Antlers

You might think the bucks use those antlers to fight enemies who want to eat them, but these deer rarely use their antlers for this reason. Instead, bucks use their antlers to scuffle with other bucks and prove their dominance. The antlers can also attract females, as bigger antlers usually mean a deer is the dominant of all the males.

The bucks lose their antlers each year and grow new ones in spring. The antlers get bigger each year as the buck gets older. When the new antlers start to grow, they’re coated in soft fur that eventually comes off, leaving the hard, pointy antlers underneath.

Where Do White-Tailed Deer Live?

White-tailed deer live in North America, Central America and South America. They’re often found in forests, close to farms and grassy brush, as well as swamps and deserts. As fawns, white-tailed deer have white polka-dots on their backs, which helps them blend into the grass and hide. They would probably beat you in a game of hide-and-seek!

A fawn with white dots lays in the grass.
Fawn with White Dots Hiding in Grass

These animals usually live alone, though they sometimes eat together in large groups, like visiting a restaurant with your extended family! Also, the fawns live with the mother deer until they’re ready to go off on their own.

What Do White-Tailed Deer Eat?

White-tailed deer are herbivores, which means they only eat plants. Some of their favorite foods include twigs, nuts, buds, cactus and trees. Their menu depends on where they live.

Since white-tailed deer are mammals, the mother feeds the babies milk. But what happens when the mother deer needs to go get food for herself? The babies will lay flat and still in the grass while their mother heads out for a meal. This makes it harder for predators to find the baby deer.

Lesson Summary

The white-tailed deer is the smallest of the North American deer and has a tail that is white underneath. These deer are mammals, which means they feed their babies milk. When they grow up, white-tailed deer only eat plants, making them herbivores.