Coastal whitetail deer abound on Jekyll Island. And why not? With 65% of the island undeveloped by law, there's lots of great habitat for these beautiful, shy animals.
The whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) ranges throughout Georgia. Those on the coast are slightly smaller than their mountain cousins. Their habitat is the thick maritime forests, where they live in solitude, protected by the wiry underbrush, live oaks, and thickly-woven Southern Wax Myrtle.
These shy animals are sometimes elusive, mostly leaving their beds in the brush at feeding time in the early morning and evenings. That's the accepted behavior, anyway, but the deer don't listen to the wildlife biologists. You can see them most anytime on Jekyll Island.
Coastal whitetail deer love to roam here, and you can come across them anytime. But mostly you'll spot them just at dawn, or at twilight, as they move out from cover to browse.
Our Favorite Spots to See Coastal Whitetail Deer -
One of the best places to spot deer is the open space that used to serve as the parking lot for the Amphitheater. Folks coming to see the plays parked on a grass and sand area, under the live oaks. The deer come here to feed frequently, sometimes as many as six or more.
Behind the Amphitheater is also good. We go there to watch roosting birds in the late afternoon, and occasionally see deer on the trail. If you're quiet, when you emerge back at the parking area at dusk, you'll most likely see the deer families mentioned previously.
Other great places to view coastal whitetail deer on Jekyll Island are
Coastal Whitetail Deer Facts -
Deer are herd animals, omnivores that like to eat browse such as tender buds, grass, and new growth on shrubs and trees. Sometimes they'll invade landscaped areas and strip them bare. Gardeners in deer country either must use plants deer don't like, or add deer protection to their gardens (nets, etc.).
Female deer (does) give birth to one or two fawns, those cute little deer with russet coloring sprinkled with white spots. The fawns stay with their moms until they're yearlings, and sometimes longer. Male deer (bucks) don't usually run with the herd, but during the mating season (called the rut) you can be sure they'll be around, checking out the does.
During the rut, bucks have one thing on their mind - mating. They can be dangerous at that time, so beware during rutting season that you don't get too close to a buck. Those antlers can hurt!
Mating season usually coincides with hunting season, but hunting's not allowed on Jekyll Island. The state of Georgia does allow it on neighboring Cumberland Island , however, by lottery only.
The coastal whitetail deer of Jekyll Island are healthy and abundant now, but wildlife biologists keep a wary eye on the population. They don't want a repeat of what happened at Red Top Mountain State Park, where the deer population exploded.
The deer ate up most of their food supply (over browsing) to their own detriment. The animals began to starve, becoming sick and diseased from malnutrition. All the trees had distinctive browse lines on their lower limbs where the starving deer had stood on their hind legs and chewed the twigs down as far as they could reach.
It got so bad they began to wander down to the campsites and lodges in broad daylight, ignoring their instinctive fear of humans, in order to eat the grass down to a nub. You could see their ribs they were so gaunt.
Finally the state brought in mercenary hunters who went out at night for a week and culled the herd back to a healthy level. All the meat was donated to charity.
Biologists don't want what happened at Red Top to occur at Jekyll Island, so they keep a close watch on the herd. If the population were to jump unexpectedly, some deer would have to be relocated, or the island would need to be closed to visitors for a week or so to allow a managed hunt to thin the herds.
The island is beautiful and a wonder to visit, and to enjoy all the wildlife, especially our coastal whitetail deer. But we need to remember it's all a balanced ecosystem - one without natural predators. That's why human intervention needs to occur every once in a while, to protect the viability of the ecosystem as well as the health of the animals.
Next time you're on Jekyll Island, make it a point to seek out brother deer. Seeing a deer in the wild is a breathtaking experience that I never get tired of - and neither will you.