Ruminants Among Us


Yes, that up there is common deer poop, left right next to a manzanita bush in our front yard. Or so I believe from previous experience in wilder parts of the country. I can’t think of another animal in our parts that would leave scat that looks quite like this. More circumstantial evidence: a deer hoof print in our next-door neighbor’s front-yard garden, which contains lots of roses, reputedly a favorite food of our semi-urban deer.

Joking aside: the deer have moved in. There’s not enough cover in our yard for them to stay full time, but I’ve heard of places within three or four blocks where deer families have taken up residence. I don’t object, though they are larger than our average wild neighbor and the thing that sometimes worries me about them is scaring one at night and getting run over. Hasn’t happened yet, though.

Midday Deer Encounter


About 1 this afternoon, walking south on the north end of Shattuck Avenue (the end that turns into a narrow residential street in the lower hills after coursing six-lane style across downtown). The Dog was off the leash after we crossed Los Angeles Avenue, and out of nowhere (a yard, actually), this young deer landed in the middle of the street. I don’t think he (I think it’s a he) had seen the dog, because he immediately froze.

The Dog froze, too. At one point in his life I think he would have lit out after anything on four legs. But I think he gets it that if this is a squirrel, it’s a very tall, long-legged one, and he needs to watch for a while to see if a strategy suggests itself. A few seconds after the deer appeared in the street, a car arrived, too; the driver stopped to watch the show, then pulled up close to the animal to take some pictures after it had bounded up into a yard across the way. We moved on after a few minutes. Last I saw, the deer was contemplating the action on the street from a deck on top of someone’s garage.

(And yes, there was a time not too long ago when encountering a deer in the middle of the day here would have been very surprising; at dusk and after dark, not a shock. But this is the second time in the last couple of weeks I’ve happened across a young deer right around noontime. Not sure what accounts for it beyond the apparent large number of deer in the hills moving down into the city and maybe young ones out there learning the urban ropes.)


Road Blog: Deer vs. Cars–the Numbers

When you tell people you hit a deer while driving, you find out everyone has their own story. One of my brothers hit a deer he never saw while driving a truck in western New York State (he was checking a mirror when the animal ventured onto the roadway; his passenger explained what the loud bang had been). My other brother was driving behind a pickup that hit a large buck; the animal smashed into the truck’s windshield and the antlers penetrated the glass. My sister’s best friend hit a deer. A coworker of my daughter-in-law hit one on a Bay Area freeway, and the deer came clear through the windshield.

A 1995 study for The Wildlife Society crunched some numbers from earlier studies and came up with an annual estimate of as many as 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions nationwide. Since then, researchers have even come up with a shorthand term for this phenomenon: DVC. The study was titled “Review of human injuries, illnesses, and economic losses caused by wildlife in the United States,” and the deer-vehicle issue was just part of the overall picture. The study considered everything from Lyme disease to bird-aircraft strikes to wildlife damage to farming and ranching and tried to tote up the cost.

For deer-vehicle collisions, the estimated cost was huge: About 200 deaths, 29.000 injuries, and more than $1 billion in vehicle damage. The study also notes: “Being hit by a vehicle is fatal to deer about 92 percent of the time. These deaths can represent economic loss that we could not estimate.” (A current estimate of overall wildlife-vehicle collisions–crashes involving “large mammals”–puts the annual number at 1 million to 2 million and direct economic losses at $6 billion to $12 billion a year.)

That 1995 report and similar studies prompted researchers at several universities to try to undertake a more systematic way of assessing the million or more crashes happening on the highways every year. One result is the Deer-Vehicle Collision Information and Research Center (you can find it at, which has put some harder numbers to some aspects of the issue. For instance, the DVCIR Center breaks down the number of (human) fatalities in animal-vehicle collisions from 1994 through 2007. The highest death toll was in 2007, with 223 people killed nationwide (second place was 2006, with 222 deaths). The total killed nationwide in that 14-year period: 2,398. Texas led the country in motorist fatalities in animal-vehicle collisions in 12 of those 14 years.

The collision research has also led to testing of a Roadkill Observation Collection System (ROCS), a networked handheld device with GPS that would allow road crews and others to document locations and circumstances of carcasses found on roads and ditches and upload their reports to a centralized database.

And that brings me back to the ditch along that twilight section of Nebraska Route 12 we were traveling last night when we struck a deer. Nebraska recorded 41,028 deer-vehcile collisions from 1998 through 2008 (Dixon County, where we were last night, recorded 215 of those incidents). The Deer-Vehicle Collision Information and Research Center puts the number of Nebraska fatalities at 20 from 1998 through 2007 (and 29 from ’94-’07).

Last: Here’s an unsentimental (and unendorsed) view of all this from Reason magazine, that bastion of libertarianism: North America’s Most Dangerous Mammal.

Berkeley Wildlife: Street Deer


I’ve mentioned several times in the last couple of years–here and here, for instance–that it has become pretty commonplace to encounter deer here in the Berkeley flatlands (and in the hills, some deer are getting ornery.) Still, today’s experience broke new ground. First, during a noontime walk, The Dog startled a good-sized young adult deer–I’m guessing it was a male–that had been browsing the plants along a driveway adjacent to a vacant lot or overgrown backyard on Monterey Street. The deer bolted into the trees and watched us. Then a woman pulled into the driveway. She said she wasn’t surprised we had happened upon the deer. “There’s a family of three living in there,” she said. “The poor things are just running out of room.” She also mentioned that a dead deer was lying on the street nearby. Hit by a car? I asked. “No–it must have been sick. It doesn’t look like it was injured.” She added that someone had called Berkeley Animal Control.

Her description didn’t prepare me for the fawn that lay along the sidewalk two doors down. A beautiful animal. Surprisingly, The Dog wasn’t interested. I took a few pictures, and we continued on our walk. When we get home, I called animal control myself. When someone came on the line, I told them I wanted to report a dead deer on a street in North Berkeley. “Would that be the one on … Monterey?” the attendant asked. “Yeah, that’s the one.” “We already know about that,” she said. “Any ETA for when you might be out there?” “No. We have one officer in the field, and emergency calls come first. So ….”

I wonder how long it will take word to spread in the carrion-eating community of the choice meal awaiting out there.

November 11: The Notebook

Item 1: I’ve wondered to myself at what point I’ll consider deer roaming around central Berkeley as unremarkable as, say, crows. A picture of a deer in the front yard comes to mind, maybe eating some choice vegetation (though the plants in yards to either side of us are probably a lot more delectable). It seems we’re getting pretty close to that day. During our late evening walk, The Dog and I had two encounters with big hooved springing mammals. The first was a little startling as an adult-sized deer bolted from a front yard across the street and make a pretty good racket as it crossed a couple of hedges. Then it did that sproingy run that deer do all the way up the street into the dark. A few blocks away, The Dog got alert to something across the street, and two more deer went clattering up the pavement, paused at the next corner, then hung a right and vanished. I wonder who the next arrivals in the neighborhood will be. Mountain lions looking for a snack? No — coyotes are a lot more likely.

Item 2: Sometime in the last couple months, an old colleague of mine called attention via Facebook to a remarkable series of articles in the Ann Arbor Chronicle–what I’m guessing is an “alternative weekly.” The serial is running under the title “Washtenaw Jail Diary.” The Chronicle hasn’t announced a publication schedule, but a new installment seems to appear every couple of weeks. Elsewhere, I said I look forward to the new chapters the same way mid-19th century Londoners probably looked forward to the next piece of “A Tale of Two Cities.” But this jail diary isn’t fiction. It’s a story of an anonymous 40-something middle-class white guy who gets tossed into the county lockup. What makes the stories riveting is the writer’s skill in narrating his sudden passage from what he took to be “normal life”–telling the boss he’d be in late for work while he takes care of some business–to felony inmate. The Number One asked question about the series: What did the author do to wind up in jail? He hasn’t said yet.

Item 3: It’s November 11th. Veterans Day. Armistice Day. Remembrance Day. An occasion to reflect on a war so monstrously costly that a sequel was unimaginable. Today, we can imagine anything except, perhaps, an end to the killing.

Urban-Wildland Interface

In California, when you hear the term “urban-wildland interface,” it’s generally used to describe suburbs that have sprawled so far into the hinterlands that whole subdivisions are in the middle of areas that are prone to burning. In fact, a little Google research suggests that the term occurs together with “fire” about seven out of eight times it’s used. But I don’t want to talk about fire. I want to talk about deer running wild in the flatlands neighborhood where we live.

In the Bay Area, as in most of the rest of California and as in most of the country, deer have become very numerous in the past 20 or 30 years. This has led to colorful side effects such as the appearance of mountain lions and coyotes on the fringe or urban areas (I’ve never seen a mountain lion; but a couple years ago I spotted a coyote loping across the road ahead of me when I was on a bike ride about 10 miles from home; and hiking in the hills I’ve come across part of a deer, in carcass form, that had been taken apart by something with good strong jaws).

Deer, on the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of. There are so many in the hills, both inside and outside town, that when you’re riding a bike back down to the flats near dusk you keep an eye out for any that might be crossing the road. I’d say the first time I saw them near our house, well below the hills, about a decade ago. A panicked looking young male went clattering by one night when I was out for a walk. The sightings have become more frequent. Our neighbor Piero set up a motion-sensitive camera in his mother’s backyard to try to find out what was destroying her flower garden. The culprits, captured in pictures just about every night, are a small but healthy deer family that apparently has taken up permanent residence in a neighbor’s untended lot. Some people here think that deer travel down from the hills after dark, moving along the creeks that run toward the bay and through our unfenced parks. In a sense, they’re moving the urban-wildland interface right into the heart of the city.

Tonight’s example: I was just out taking the dog for his final neighborhood patrol of the day. A couple blocks away, alongside a big elementary school, a deer came bounding onto the sidewalk about 50 yards ahead of us, then went springing down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. The dog followed at a trot. The deer stood at the next corner; as we approached, it trotted north down the intersecting street, followed by another deer in that vaulting gait they use to jump hedges and fences and, now, to navigate the byways of North Berkeley.

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Grisly Find in Berkeley Hills


You start taking walks in the woods with a dog, and you start finding things you’d miss because you don’t, after all, have a very sharp nose. Along the Seaview Trail in the Berkeley Hills early this afternoon, Scout (a.k.a. The Dog) started nosing something lying in the weeds. When I caught up with him, I saw what he was interested in; at first glance, it looked like a little carcass tied to a couple of bloody sticks. I picked up a twig and turned it over, and saw that it was the lower part of a deer’s leg. The bloody sticks were bones that had been stripped bare by a coyote or some other hills varmint (OK–there are mountain lions up there, and they’d have an easier time dispatching a deer than a coyote would, but I didn’t think to look for any tracks; in any case, if the predator was a cat, it probably left plenty for the coyotes and other scavengers to gnaw on). Looking at it now, I’m surprised by the delicacy of it.

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Semi-Wild Things


We had a dry day today, so I walked up to the top of the hills. Early in the afternoon, when I was headed back down, I heard some rustling up a driveway I was passing. I looked up and saw these guys (well, I think, from the way it behaved, that only the one in the center is a guy; the other two are does). Broad daylight. Not fazed in the slightest to see an unarmed barbarian strolling past. In fact, when I stopped, the deer in the center here actually advanced toward me a few feet (that’s why I think he’s a guy). A couple minutes after I took the pictures, a man came walking up the road with two small-ish dogs on leashes. The deer picked up on the dogs right away and took off.