A Glimpse of Nature -- The Night Shift

No doubt about it!  White-tailed deer dominate the library’s nightlife.  They are the largest mammalian visitors to the library campus and, based on my trail cam’s videos, the most frequent.  Indeed, deer appeared in 92% of all nighttime animal videos captured by my camera.


It’s hardly a secret that deer utilize the property.  Many of the staff have seen them at the beginning or end of our workday.  There are tracks everywhere, and we have taken a few daytime photos.  Yet, most of the time, what we see are spooked animals making a frightened getaway.  The trail cam’s nighttime images provide a look at the deer’s behavior when they are more at ease.

First, a little background.  I acquired the trail cam in spring 2023, then practiced using it in my backyard, with some surprising results.  At the end of June, I installed the device in several locations around Queset Garden:  behind the formal garden, beyond the stage, and near the Queset House parking lot.  The GardePro clicked on at 8:00 p.m.and off at 6:00 a.m.  When movement triggered its motion sensor, it recorded a 20-second video.  It generated video clips during nineteen summer evenings.  After I weeded out footage of cars, people, branches, etc., there were 73 clips with mammals.  Of those, 67 included deer.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are 67 different deer!  The videos indicate that there are at least four individuals.  Here are three of them.


This buck’s antlers clearly distinguish it from the other three deer.


There could, in fact, be more members of the herd, but my capacity to differentiate between them is limited as I learn to interpret these black-and-white images.

One or more of these animals visits nearly every night, sometimes twice per night.  August 19, a night of heavy rain, was the only exception.  Some nights, a deer will quickly pass through on its way elsewhere.  More often, it comes to feed.  My video clips indicate that feeding occurs all through the night, with a slight lull around midnight/1 a.m.  Meals, which began as early as 8:02 p.m. and ended as late as 5:36 a.m., lasted less than 30 minutes.  I suspect that the animals stayed in the general area, even if they were out of the camera’s range.  On August 16, for example, the camera recorded activity at 1:02, 3:06, 4:04, and 5:15 a.m.  

The white-tail is able to “eat on the run” because of its special digestive system.  According to MassWildlife, “White-tailed deer have a four-chambered stomach and no upper incisors. They can swallow a lot of food in a short amount of time, and then move to a safe place to lie down and regurgitate their food and chew it up more.”  This is what we call “chewing its cud.”

One evening two small deer spent a lot of time in the thicket southwest of the stage.  They fed on the tall vegetation as well as picking at the lawn.  Here’s the spot.  Listen for the gray treefrog’s call and notice that second set of eyes.


After watching numerous clips of deer feeding in the thicket, I was puzzled when they spent so much time near the Queset House parking lot – until I walked over there.  Their motive became obvious:  lots and lots of tasty crabapples had fallen to the ground, juicy, deer-sized apples.  Take another look at “Three Deer Browsing,” this time paying attention to their food.

The results of our experiment should not be surprising given the sizable deer population in Southeastern Massachusetts.  Suburban neighborhoods provide attractive woodland- edge habitat where white-tails can graze and find safety.  I hope this post also illustrates the type of information that a trail cam can provide.  A wildlife observer can witness more natural behaviors and patterns with this relatively unobtrusive tool.  Next time, we’ll focus on other species who visit the library campus.  Thanks for joining in the fun.  Your images and anecdotes are always welcome.

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