Sunday, September 20, 2009

A noise in the dark

When I heard the noise coming from outside at 1 a.m. Sunday, I thought perhaps we had fallen victim to thieves who have been rummaging through neighborhood cars. I rushed downstairs, flicked on the outdoor lights and looked out the window to see an adult white-tailed deer less than 3 feet of way.

The animal glanced toward me, flicked its tail and slowly ambled off. I suspect it had been grazing on the bushes near our house and clearly, it was unafraid of the human occupant peering through the window.

The experience makes me wonder what other animal behavior is going on while we sleep, though I am particularly intrigued by the deer I often spot walking through the woods behind our house or appearing on the lawn early in the morning. They are beautiful animals, even if their fondness for our Hosta and shrubs ruins the plants.

Apparently I am not the only one fascinated by these creatures. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a 78-year-old anthropologist from Peterborough, NH, has just written "The Hidden Life of Deer" and tells us:

"Deer families are run by their mothers. Local families arrange into a hierarchy. They adopt orphans; they occasionally reject a child; they use complex warnings to signal danger; they mark their territories; they master local microclimates to choose their beds; and they send countless coded messages that we can read, if only we know what to look for."

Thomas, who's also written about the hidden lives of elephants, dogs and cats, penned her latest book after a year of observing more than 30 deer that took advantage of the piles of food she left near her farmhouse when they faced starvation following the 2007 failure of the acorn crop. She wondered how the animals knew went to come as a group and why sometimes they cooperated, and sometimes they competed.

I hope the answers, along with ways to decode the deer messages, are revealed in her book, which I intend to read because I want to know more about these animals who are living -- and eating -- so close to my door. According to some statistics, there are an estimated 20 million to 25 million deer in the USA and the number is growing because of the decline in natural predators and hunting. Experts estimate that there be now be as many as 100 deer per square mile, especially in eastern metropolitan areas.

Doesn't it make you wonder how many might be walking around outside your home tonight?

According to the HarperCollins web site, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas will discuss her new book on Friday, October 16, at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter.


Lorna Barrett said...

It the critters during the day that bug me. The groundhogs who decimated my Brussels sprouts and broccoli crops. Grrrrrr. I bought a Havahart trap, but they preferred my plants to the carrots and apples that were used as bait.

PatRemick said...

SOmetimes we don't realize just how much wildlife is around us -- or how much they like the food that's supposed to be ours!