Pharos-Tribune

March 31, 2014

Team studying differences among Indiana deer

CAROL KUGLER
The Herald-Times

---- — BLOOMINGTON (AP) — It looks like it's not just city mice and country mice that are different.

Research on fawns in Bloomington and Monroe and Brown counties shows that it also may be true of white-tailed deer.

"Deer in town appear to stay in town, and the deer out of town seem to stay out of town," said Tim Carter, associate professor at Ball State University and the researcher leading the three-year deer study of fawns in the area.

Carter, his associates and volunteers first collared newborn fawns last spring so they could track them throughout their first year.

In all, 47 fawns were collared. Of those, 29 were in urban areas, meaning Bloomington, and 18 were in rural Monroe and Brown counties.

During the first year, 17 collars were collected after the fawns were either killed or the collars slipped off the animals, with 11 fawns dying for a variety of reasons.

"All of the fawns that still have their collars are still being tracked for their movement and survival," Chad Williamson, a Ball State graduate student who is involved with the research project, told The Herald-Times.

The researchers use radio telemetry to locate the animals. As the distance between tracker and deer shrinks, the beeps become louder.

If the signal emitted by the collar doesn't move within a four-hour period, the timing of the beeps emitted by the collar changes to a "mortality" beep, which is very rapid. The researchers then track down the collar to determine if the fawn is dead or if it has just lost the collar.

One surprise the researchers had was the number of collars that slipped off the deer. More urban deer slipped a collar, in large part due to all the structures such as fences and buildings that they go over and under during their travels around the city.

"When you find a collar that's completely stretched out, found on a fence, found on the ground under bushes, it's very clear to us that it was snagged on something," Carter said.

When researchers find and collar more fawns this spring, they plan on making the collars a little tougher and tighter. And even though some people may think that could lead to a deer choking to death, Carter said that this technique is used widely in such studies and there have been no reports of a collared deer ever choking to death.

But researchers did find that urban deer were more likely to be killed by vehicles, while rural deer were more likely to be killed by coyotes. Of the fatalities, seven were in Bloomington, with five due to vehicle collisions and two deaths from domestic dogs.

There were four fawns killed in rural areas, with three from coyote predation and one from abandonment.

Williamson said researchers could tell the coyotes killed fawns because there was little left; with dog kills, the fawns were killed and left alone.

One of the bigger surprises involving the deaths was that they occurred at different times in the animals' development, depending on whether they were in rural or urban settings.

Out-of-town fawns had higher mortality early in their lives and then very late in their first year, when hunting season was open.

In town, it was the opposite, with fawns doing well early and late in their first year and having more fatalities in the middle of the year, most often in late August, according to Williamson.

"It's when the car collisions happened a lot," he said. "We're affectionately calling it the 'terrible twos,'" because it is when the fawns were old enough to leave their mother's side and begin exploring.

"They don't know what cars are," Williamson said. "Four to five animals died within a week or two. They were all the same age, exploring."

After that point in the fawns' development, Williamson said, city deer seemed to have figured out what vehicle traffic was all about and fatalities from collisions with vehicles stopped.

Both Carter and Williamson said the biggest result they've drawn so far from the research is that the two populations — urban and rural — are distinctly different, with different issues and forces working on them.

"The dynamics are much different," Williamson said. "When it comes time to manage white-tailed deer, they are different deer with slightly different forces. ... It's going to take some time to figure out what is the best solution to the high deer densities in Bloomington."

But the Ball State researchers are not part of the city's discussion about possibly allowing sharpshooters to hunt deer in the Griffy Lake area.

Williamson extends a "huge thank you" to all the citizens of Bloomington for their help in locating and collaring the fawns.

"They have been absolutely fantastic to work with," he said, adding that there were 800 emails and calls from residents telling the researchers where to find fawns.

"In the end, we didn't have to go find a single fawn in Bloomington," Williamson said.

The researchers figured out they spent 6.2 hours for each fawn they collared in Bloomington.

Out in the rural areas it was much different, with the collaring of a fawn requiring 62 man-hours of work. In the wooded countryside, workers had six to eight people walking through fields looking for fawns. A "good day" was when they found two to three fawns.

The study of the first-year fawns ended at the end of 2013.

Now the researchers are gearing up to find more fawns to collar this spring, starting in late May. They will again ask Bloomington residents to call the fawn hotline at 812-822-3308 or email deerstudy@bsu.edu. And they will focus more of their efforts on finding newborn fawns in the rural areas of Monroe and Brown counties.

"We're counting on the citizens of Bloomington so we can get enough fawns in town," Carter said.

And they are asking rural residents of Monroe and Brown counties to call or email if they see newborn fawns, Carter said, adding, "We want those folks to know that they can help just as much."

So, if you see a small group of people quickly exiting a car, wearing bright yellow vests and carrying equipment as they run across someone's yard, you'll know it's probably a crew out searching for a fawn.