A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why Did the Deer Cross the Road?

I saw an article yesterday mentioned in the Cornell University Facebook feed, and it happens to be great fodder for the blog.  The article interviewed a Cornell faculty member, Paul Curtis of the Natural Resources department, about the habits of deer, particularly with respect to their tendencies toward vehicular accidents.  I'll share some highlights from the article here and link to the whole thing below.

Deer accidents are most common in late fall and early winter - October, November, and December - because this is the breeding season.  Males tend to be a bit more concerned with chasing a mate than with looking both ways.  It also doesn't help that due to daylight savings time, later sunrises, and earlier sunsets, rush hour moves closer to dawn and dusk (when deer are most active) during these months.

There's also three weeks from late May through early June when accidents peak again, as females prepare to give birth and send their older fawns packing.  These yearlings are on their own for the first time, and they're likely exploring unfamiliar ground on top of that, as they have to establish their own territory.  Females tend to stay close to home - within 5 to 10 miles of their mother's range - but males can stray as far as 50 miles.  Around here, females would tend to stay in the county, while males could end up in the Syracuse or Binghamton areas!

The most surprising tidbit from the article was his advice for what to do if you are headed for a deer in the middle of the road and don't have time to brake.  "The best thing to do is to just hit the deer and keep driving as straight as possible and slow down as quickly as you can. Most people are injured in deer accidents when they try to swerve to avoid a deer. I tell motorists that the deer is the softest thing you’re likely to hit. The most serious human injuries incur when you hit a guardrail or tree."  Somehow, I don't think he's advising you to hit the accelerator.

He also blames the preponderance of deer accidents, at least in part, on the over-use of deer crossing signs.  Deer tend to follow the same paths (I've noticed this in my yard, and it's only become more obvious in the snow), so in theory, marking the most common trails with signs should reduce accidents  But the signs have been so common - and often say "Next 2 miles" rather than specifying a crossing - so that due to this over-saturation, we tend to ignore them.

There's more good stuff in the article; check it out!


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