Cameras Identify White-tailed Deer Depredating Northern
Susan N. Ellis-Felege, Jonathan S. Burnam, William E. Palmer, D. Clay Sisson,
Shane D. Wellendorf, Ryan P. Thornton, H. Lee Stribling, and John P. Carroll
Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 7, Number 3 (2008): 562–564
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Cameras Identify White-tailed Deer Depredating Northern
Susan N. Ellis-Felege1,*, Jonathan S. Burnam1, William E. Palmer2, D. Clay Sisson3,
Shane D. Wellendorf 2, Ryan P. Thornton1, H. Lee Stribling4, and John P. Carroll1
Abstract - Odocoileus virginianus (White-tailed Deer) were videotaped depredating two Colinus
virginianus (Northern Bobwhite) nests during a nest-predator study in south Georgia in
2002 and 2003. Deer ate eggs from the nests, leading to the failure of one of the two nests.
Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman (White-tailed Deer) are generally considered
herbivores, but may consume animal matter (Allan 1978). Deer have been suspected
of depredating eggs from bird nests (J.H. Brunjes, Kentucky Department of
Fish and Wildlife Resources, Frankfort, KY, pers. comm.; Sealy 1994) and artificial
nests (Keyser 2002), but confirmation is lacking in the literature. Pietz and Granfors
(2000) observed White-tailed Deer eating nestlings during a nest camera study on
grassland birds. Researchers have observed or suspected deer feeding on birds caught
in mist nests (Allan 1978, Sealy 1994, Stone and Palmateer 1970). Other atypical
food items deer have been observed or suspected of eating are fish (Burgess 1924,
Case and McCullough 1987, Olson 1932, Severinghaus 1967, Shea 1973) and insects
(Carlson and Sloan 1975, Shaw 1963). We report two documented incidents of deer
foraging on Colinus virginianus Linnaeus (Northern Bobwhite) eggs.
As part of a long-term study of bobwhite ecology, we placed cameras at nests of radio-
tagged bobwhites to study nest behavior and identify nest predators, 2000 to 2006.
Bobwhites were captured using funnel bait-traps (Stoddard 1931), and were fitted
with 6-g pendant-style radio-transmitters. Trapping, handling, and marking followed
University of Georgia procedures (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee permit
#A2004-10109-c1 and A3437-0). Study sites consisted of three plantations; two
sites were in the Red Hills physiographical region of north Florida and south Georgia,
and one in the upper coastal plain region near Albany, GA. Pebble Hill Plantation is in
Grady and Thomas counties, GA and Tall Timbers Research Station is in Leon County,
FL. Pinebloom Plantation is in Baker County, GA. Detailed site description for the Red
Hills sites can be found in Staller et al. (2005), and for Pinebloom in Sisson et al. (in
press) and Terhune et al. (in press). The study areas are all managed with frequent fire
to maintain an open, low-density pine forest structure. Sites are dominated by Pinus
taeda Linnaeus (Loblolly Pine) and P. echinata Miller (Shortleaf Pine) with associated
“old-field” ground cover vegetation, as well as, areas of P. palustris Miller (Longleaf
Pine) with associated Aristida stricta Michaux (Wiregrass) ground cover. Hardwood
drains and hammocks are interspersed across the landscape.
Bobwhites were located at least 5 days/ week to monitor nesting behavior. Birds
found in the same location on two consecutive days were assumed nesting. Flagging
was placed near the nest site to mark its location. When the incubating bobwhite
was away from the nest on a recess period, we installed 24-hour near-infrared cameras
(Furhman Diversified, Seabrook, TX) approximately 1 m from bobwhite nests
(Staller et al. 2005). Cameras were camoufl aged using surrounding vegetation. Nests
were checked daily until failure or hatch, and videos were viewed to identify the nest
predator in the event of a failed nest.
Cameras were installed at 749 bobwhite nests over a 7-year study period (2000–
2006) and documented the first known cases of White-tailed Deer eating avian eggs
from natural nests in the Southeast. Three of the 749 cameras were removed to avoid
abandonment when the bobwhite refused to return to the nest. Of the remaining 746
Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 7/3, 2008
2008 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 563
monitored nests, 429 hatched, 285 failed due to predation on the nest or the incubating
adult, and 32 were abandoned due to research activities.
White-tailed Deer depredations accounted for a full depredation and a partial
depredation. Thus, the one full deer depredation accounted for 0.3% of the nest
failures attributed to predation of the nest or incubating adult. The first depredation
occurred at Pebble Hill Plantation on 12 June 2002 at 0343 (Fig. 1a).
The second depredation occurred on Pinebloom Plantation on 23 May 2003
(Figs. 1b, c). A deer with velvet antlers just beginning to grow came into the camera
view at 0629 and began to sniff and eat an egg at 0630. At 0631, a second deer without
antlers appeared and acted very timid, moving into and out of the camera view,
sniffing, and eventually returning to eat an egg. The male inspected the camera at
0634, then took another pass by the nest, sniffed, licked, and left the camera view
Figure 1. (a) A White-tailed
Deer depredating a Northern
Bobwhite nest at Pebble
Hill Plantation, GA on 12
June 2002 (top). (b) The buck
inspecting our nest camera
(middle). (c) Two Whitetailed
Deer eating Northern
Bobwhite eggs from a nest
on Pinebloom Plantation GA
564 Southeastern Naturalist Notes Vol. 7, No. 3
at 0635. Two eggs were ultimately removed during this depredation event, but the
incubating hen hatched the remaining ten eggs.
Deer may opportunistically use high-protein and high-energy food items such as
eggs, particularly during fawning and antler development in late spring and summer.
In the infrequent event of deer depredating nests, lack of diagnostic sign makes it
highly unlikely the White-tailed Deer will be suspected without the aid of nest cameras
(Fies and Puckett 2000, Staller et al. 2005, Thompson et al. 1999).
Acknowledgments. Research was funded by a Direct Congressional Appropriation,
The University of Georgia Graduate School, and the Warnell School of Forestry
and Natural Resources at The University of Georgia. We would like to thank the
many people involved in this project from Tall Timbers Research Station and Land
Conservancy, the Albany Quail project, and USDA Wildlife Services who helped
coordinate the study and collect data. In particular, we would like to acknowledge
all the technicians who maintained cameras, checked nests daily, watched hours of
camera footage, and tracked radio-tagged bobwhites throughout the nesting period.
Allan, T.A. 1978. Further evidence of White-tailed Deer eating birds in mist nets. Bird-Banding
Burgess, T.W. 1924. Fish-eating deer. Journal of Mammalogy 5:64–65.
Carlson, D.J., and N.F. Sloan. 1975. Carnivorous feeding by White-tailed Deer. Inland Bird-
Banding News 47:217–219.
Case, D.J., and D.R. McCullough. 1987. White-tailed Deer forage on Alewives. Journal of
Fies, M.L., and K.M. Puckett. 2000. Depredation patterns of Northern Bobwhite nest predators
in Virginia. Proceedings of the National Quail Symposium 4:96–102.
Keyser, A.J. 2002. Nest predation in fragmented forests: Landscape matrix by distance from
edge interactions. Wilson Bulletin 114:186–191.
Olson, S.F. 1932. Fish-eating deer. Journal of Mammalogy 13:80–81.
Pietz, P.J., and D.A. Granfors. 2000. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) predation on
grassland songbird nestlings. American Midland Naturalist 144:419–422.
Sealy, S.G. 1994. Observed acts of egg destruction, egg removal, and predation on nests of passerine
birds at Delta Marsh, Manitoba. Canadian Field-Naturalist 108:41–51.
Severinghaus, C.W. 1967. Fishy deer. NY State Conservationist 22:40.
Shaw, H. 1963. Insectivorous White-tailed Deer. Journal of Mammalogy 44:284.
Shea, D.S. 1973. White-tailed Deer eating salmon. Murrelet 54:23.
Sisson, D.C., T.M. Terhune, H.L. Stribling, J. Sholar, and S. Mitchell. In press. Survival and
cause of mortality of Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) in the southeastern USA.
Staller, E.L., W.E. Palmer, J.P. Carroll, R.P. Thornton, and D.C. Sisson. 2005. Identifying
predators at Northern Bobwhite nests. Journal of Wildlife Management 69:124–132.
Stoddard, H.L. 1931. The Bobwhite Quail: Its Habits, Preservation, and Increase. C. Scribner’s
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Stone, W.B., and J.R. Palmateer. 1970. A bird ingested by a White-tailed Deer. NY Fish and
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Terhune, T.M., D.C. Sisson, H.L. Stribling, and J.P. Carroll. In press. Northern Bobwhite (Colinus
virginianus) demographic and population response to an intensive habitat modification
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Thompson III, F.R., W. Dijak, and D.E. Burhans. 1999. Video identification of predators at
songbird nests in old fields. Auk 116:259–264.
1Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.
2Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, 13093 Henry Beadel Drive, Tallahassee,
FL 32312. 3Albany Quail Project, Route 1, Box 115, Newton, GA 39870. 4School of Forestry
and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849. *Corresponding author - elliss@