Deer researcher shares thoughts on how coyotes can impact deer populations

At a recent meeting of the Appalachian Members of the Virginia Deer Hunters Association, Dr. Bradley Cohen, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Georgia, spoke about the research he’s been involved with on deer.   He spoke to the group about how deer communicate with each other using sounds and body signals and how they perceive their world with what they see and how they see it.  Dr. Cohen came to speak to the group through his friend Dana Moren.  Moren is a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University) and a Graduate Research Assistant on the Virginia Appalachian Coyote Study.   She is working on the study to see how coyotes may be affecting the deer population in Bath County.

Moren has spoken to the group several times about the coyote study.  And Dr. Cohen also touched on the coyote issue from his experience with deer.

“Before coyotes, humans were the only predators of deer,” says Cohen.

He said that, as a result, in hunted areas deer learned to look up to spot hunters in tree stands.  And now, since coyotes have moved in, deer have also learned to look down for danger.

“Only recently has it ever been recorded that coyotes are capable of taking adult deer,” says Cohen.  “And I would be willing to say that most of the adult deer that we find in coyote diet is scavenged from hunter kills. Typically, they are not capable of taking down an adult deer.  When they pack up, which even that doesn’t happen all the time, but when they do pack up, they’re more capable of it, but it’s not the norm.  It’s so much easier to just go eat the remains of some hunter killed deer, than have to chase down a live adult deer.”

The way that coyotes might affect deer population is by preying on the fawns.

“The problem is that fawns don’t know to run away,” says Cohen.  “They’re not really good runners yet.  When they’re getting eaten, it’s usually in the first week of life.  And at that point, they don’t really run.  They’re just kind of wobbling around.  So their instinct is, because they can’t run very well, just stay still and hope that I hide in and the coyote doesn’t see me.  Well if the coyote bumps into them and the fawn just stays still, there’s your recipe for disaster.”

Also during the meeting Dana Moren gave a brief report on a recently completed master’s thesis by David Montague.  He has been studying the diet of bobcats, coyotes and bears in conjunction with her research.  She said that deer hair was found in coyote scat all year long, which shows a high level of scavenging all year.  Moren said if the coyotes in the area were just hitting fawns they would expect to see an increase in the scat only during fawning season, but it was the same all the way through the year.  She said the research shows that bobcats may be better at getting fawns that previously thought.  And she also reported that there is very little evidence that bears are making a difference on the deer population, because they saw no increase of deer remains in bear scat during fawning season.

Morin’s dissertation and David Montague’s master’s thesis will be the final reports for the Virginia Appalachian Coyote Study and all the work will be completed within the next year.

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Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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