Happy hooves

When the kids were little and ventured out to play in freshly fallen snow, the yard became happy with boot prints, snow angels, and winding tracks left from rolling snowman parts.  Nowadays the yard is more often made ‘happy’ by hooves, and there are no snow angels in sight. deer tracks-5 1-10

One clear advantage of winter is snow cover, which gives us humans the chance to track the movement of mammals living close by.  Nothing can traverse through snow without leaving tracks, so I like to use this time of year to study the favored paths of my neighbors – the long-legged, four-footed, fur-coated type.  The most obvious of these are left by the largest of the neighborhood vegetarians … deer.  In the photos here it’s pretty clear just how often and freely these hoofed neighbors visit all the unfenced areas surrounding our home.  The shot to the right is typical of the snow-blanketed woods – and yes, these are deer tracks – all of them – left within the last few days.

The photos below were all taken from the front walkway, the front porch, or along the fenced in back yard from a vantage point near the house.


Fencing added before the ground freezes is good for the health of the rhododendron bushes …


The only area not trodden by deer is the small acreage inside the back yard fence where I keep the deer candy shrubs like holly and hydrangea.  But just outside the fence, deer have been busy.  The tiny red-twig dogwood (under the chicken-wire cage to the left below) would be gone had I refrained from caging.


deer prints-7 1-10 considering a tasty ilex 1-10 Each winter, when light snow covers the ground, I check out the most active deer paths in and around the yard.  The one above is not a problem, in fact I encourage deer to use perimeter areas, such as this one where they often paw for acorns.  I’ve even taken to raking mounds of autumn-dropped acorns back into the woods just to minimize this activity in my more cultivated areas.  This year I’ve noticed a lot of deer traffic (left photo) between two fenced areas.  Deer obviously find this a convenient way to access the side lawn and planted beds from the woods.  This path may need some defensive alterations such as winter-only fencing to prevent future through traffic, particularly if I want to keep any persistent deer from trying to reach through the black fence to get at the new Ilex.  The left photo shows at least one has already checked out the Ilex from outside the fence.  Too bad installing a deer-toll wouldn’t work.  It would be nice to retrieve some of the dough I’ve spent feeding them over the years.

I refer to the Field Guide to New England by the National Audubon Society or A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide, the Southern New England version, when I find an animal track I’m not familiar with.  I also found a cool animal tracks poster online, plus more animal track info you can check out if you’re unsure of the tracks left by visitors to your snow-covered yard.  Take advantage of the winter snows in your yard … you may be surprised at what you learn about your mammal neighbors.

10 comments for “Happy hooves

  1. January 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I am seeing many deer tracks too Joene, and they mostly leave my stick garden alone. A nip here and there but not too much loss to me. I love the turkey tracks and occasionally see a fox or coyote track too. I think it is great that you put acorns out for the deer… a good way to encourage them away from your gardens. Thanks for reminding us to get out and see what has been happening in our gardens while we were held up inside for warmth. The snow tells a story for those of us willing to go out and read it. Thanks too for the great links. Carol

  2. January 10, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Since I am not bothered by them, I haven’t appreciated what others have to do to protect their gardens. It looks like the whole herd found your place!

  3. January 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    It is fascinating to follow the deer tracks and see exactly how they travel around your garden, isn’t it? I was outside doing the same thing last week and was amazed at the areas the deer seem to leave alone and others where the tracks are heavy like in your garden. Certainly explains alot about the browsing damage on plants.cc At this time of the year I almost feel bad for them as I can see how they are desperately looking for food, then I remember all the damage they do to my beloved garden the rest of the year and my heart hardens a bit.

  4. joenesgarden
    January 11, 2010 at 8:15 am

    Carol, I often see fox or coyote tracks, but these have eluded me so far this year.

  5. joenesgarden
    January 11, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Deborah, it is not unusual to see herds (plural) of 7 to 15 deer walking or running through the woods around our house. No shrub protection means no hydrangea, no ilex, no azalea, and rhododendrons bereft of any vegetation reachable by deer.

  6. joenesgarden
    January 11, 2010 at 8:22 am

    Debbie, I figured you would connect with this post, knowing how prevalent deer are in your neck of CT. I enjoy watching deer wander the woods, I just wish their population were better checked. I’m sure your yard is as hoove happy as ours.

  7. January 12, 2010 at 1:26 am

    I’m glad I looked a little closer at the bottom of your post and finally found where to click for comments. (it’s my eyes, not your blog).
    We have this neat anti-deer and anti coyote system, (called our horse and donkey) but even without that, we’re very rural with lots of pasture and woodland, so the deer seem to stay away. I think. So far, anyway, and we’ve been here 11 years. I don’t vegetable garden at all either, so that probably helps to keep other creatures at bay, though we feed the birds prodigiously, yearround.

  8. joenesgarden
    January 12, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Jodi, the horse farm down the street has just the opposite happen … deer freely roam the horse pastures, and drink from the water buckets. Deer around here are not at all put off by horses, likewise for coyotes.

  9. January 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Before we moved in to our house and before the sod was laid, I noticed deer tracks going across the front yard. Even now, we see deer occasionally, in the back of the neighborhood by the creek, where there aren’t many houses built. Last summer I got a volunteer sunflower growing underneath the bird feeder and a week later, all the leaves were neatly nibbled off. I like knowing that there is wildlife around and spend probably way too much money feeding the birds!

    • joenesgarden
      January 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm

      I like reminders that we share this planet with other creatures, but enough reminders from deer, already!

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