Oh Deer

With the upcoming visit of Santa and his reindeer, this is a good time to brush-up on deer facts.

Deer and antelope are often mistakenly thought of as the same creature. While they are similar in shape and structure, they are different species in different families.

The main difference between the two: antelope have permanent horns, whereas deer (males) have antlers they shed and grow anew every year. Antlers are bone, and are an extension of the skull.

The deer family, Cervidae, is represented here by caribou, moose, elk, and of course deer. Although there are deer on all continents except Australia and Antarctica, these were all seen in North America.

Caribou are native to the arctic and can be found in northern parts of North America, Europe and Siberia. In North America they are called caribou, in Europe they are called reindeer; both are the same animal, Rangifer tarandus.

The males have huge racks which they drop every year.

Moose, another kind of deer, are the largest and heaviest species in the deer family. In Europe they’re called elk; with the scientific name of Alces alces.

The first time I saw a moose was on a hike in an aspen grove near Anchorage, Alaska. A solitary mammal, she grazed while we quietly stared and photographed; and we all remained like that for nearly half an hour.

I was astounded by how tall she was. Adult average height: 4.6-6.9 feet tall (1.4-2.1m). Her tall, long-legged body towered over us, the top of her back was nearly six feet off the ground.

In Colorado, we saw this mother moose (below) with her just-born twins. She was quite far away near a river, and her calves were barely able to stand.

Moose Wikipedia.

Moose love water.

Another kind of deer, the elk, aka Cervus canadensis, can be found all over North America, Central and Northeast Asia. There are many subspecies; six in North America. The Native American term is wapiti, and in Europe they are called “red deer.”

We came across this female herd in Yellowstone.

Elk Wikipedia.

They are sociable animals and are usually found in herds. Bulls are territorial only during mating season. When they are rutting, or competing for females, they behave restlessly and become vocal with their bugling. Although the sound varies with each individual, it has a screaming quality to it and can be heard for miles.

Bugling Elk YouTube by Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

These three males were in conflict, they were bugling loudly and crashing antlers.

This one was bugling the loudest and showing great bravado.

When not in the rutting season, the elk are placid and beautiful.

In Colorado, we found this cheeky young male having a good laugh.

Typical-looking deer are of course in the deer family and include mule, white-tailed, and black-tailed deer. There are many subspecies.

This quiet trio of white-tailed deer were seeking refreshment on a hot day in Nevada. The most common deer in North America, they also occur in many other parts of the world.

Where I live in Northern California, we have the black-tailed deer who range from here up the coast into British Columbia. They are a subspecies of the mule deer.

On our property we are lucky this season to have the not-so-scientifically named holiday deer lighting our way.

May we all have the gentleness of deer, Santa’s or otherwise, steering us forward during this holiday season.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

88 thoughts on “Oh Deer

  1. Thanks for the enlightenment as I wasn’t aware that all these mammals are basically in the same family. Hmm, how did I not know that? I have been fortunate to see and photograph all but caribou which sport some serious antlers. Great pics and post as always. Best wishes for a lovely holiday season! 😊

    • How very lovely to touch base with you, Ingrid. I’m glad to know the deer family info was enlightening, and that you’ve had the pleasure of seeing and photographing most of these impressive mammals. Caribou were a joy to behold. When in Denali, we RVd with a rental that we rented in Anchorage; it’s the only time I ever RVd, but since you’re the RV expert, it sure made Denali much more accessible. I’m heading over to see what you’ve been up to…thanks so much.

  2. We often get some deer walking across our garden at this time of year, sometimes during the day but usually under the cover of darkness – looking for some food. I guess the snow is too deep higher up, both to wade through and to find something to eat. Last year, a stag uprooted one of our bird feeders. The loop which holds the water tray must have got stuck on it’s antler as it grazed and then lifted its head up! And we never did find the circular fat ball-holder!

    • I so enjoyed hearing about your deer in the wintry Alps, Mike. The stag uprooting the bird feeder with its antlers is a great story, and one example of how we can never predict what our wild creatures will do. Thanks so much for stopping by, I’m heading to see you right now.

  3. I had no idea reindeer and caribou are the same. Those antlers are impressive. I found shed white-tail antlers in the woods for the first time this year; it was exciting. I might have claimed them, but an unfortunate fence put an end to that. I’m surprised a bit that people think deer and antelope are the same. I guess they never learned that song about the home on the range, “where the deer and the antelope play.”

    • There are so many subspecies and classifications and names for the various deer family members, it is difficult to keep it all straight. So I’m glad I could share the reindeer and caribou fact with you, Linda. I had “Home on the Range” in my head as I was composing this post, glad you mentioned it. Many thanks for your visit and comment, Linda — always fun.

    • Loved this comment! I did find myself thinking why Santa chose the reindeer over all the other deer, but it was just too corny to put in the post. Lighter than moose but not as lightweight as deer, and more impressive antlers than the elk. thanks, Judi Lynn, much appreciated.

  4. I likely shouldn’t even admit the fact that I didn’t realize caribou and reindeer are the same animals! I wonder what the animal must think the day his massive rack falls to the ground. Likely the day Santa came by as they all now could fly with the decreased weight!
    I felt as though I was scrolling through a National Geographic magazine reading your post and gazing at the incredible photos. The tiny twins with their mama wins my heart. “The gentleness of deer …steering us forward..” Lovely words and wishes Jet. Sending warm thoughts to both of you.

    • I find the business of antlers and how they fall off and re-grow every year absolutely fascinating; and I liked your wondering what the animal must think when it happens, Sue. I’ll have to do a post on antlers sometime. Those tiny twins were only a few feet from a strongly flowing river and it was very windy. It was so interesting to watch the mother tending to them — I’m glad I could share it with you, Sue. Thanks so much for your lovely message and warm sentiments, and love to you and Dave.

  5. LOL! I laughed out loud when I saw your Cheeky Deer/Elk. So funny!

    I’ve only seen two moose both in Glacier National Park. They’re so TALL! I was surprised by that too.

    I love your Christmas message! I wish you and yours the same.

  6. It’s impressive to see the variety and the number of types that belong to the “deer” family. I knew about them, but still, when I see them all in one post, it brings it all home that there are many kinds of these “deer” types. Great pictures of them all. I hadn’t counted the Christmas light deer before. A newly documented species.

  7. Thanks for this informative article about the difference between members of the deer family with great photos by Athena. I am often confused by the various names of each, and subspecies, so your post is helpful. We only have white-tailed deer and moose here, and yes, moose are huge! The deer herd in the Northeast is becoming quite a problem for homeowners, but they were here first. When I was a kid, you rarely saw them as they were hunted nearly to extinction here by the 20s-30s. Introduction of seasonal hunting and kill limits allowed their increase. However, without natural predators (coyotes seldom kill deer, but will attack the weak or sick), the numbers are now out of control. Suburban areas CT to VA are over run and because wild areas are scarce, many are starving in winter. Interestingly, the average individual size has shrunk because the littler ones require less food and are more apt to survive. Anthropogenic activity at work.

    • Yes, there are plenty of theories about deer and how to control their populations. The balance of nature and humans and predators is way off, espec. in the suburbs, which is unfortunate for all. Always a pleasure to have you stop by, Eliza, thank you.

  8. This was deerlightful! Burst out laughing when the cheeky elk appeared, still smiling now. Thanks for this one, Jet, full of lovely words and images about a seasonal favourite. I love the mighty moose photos, but the reindeer with a full rack shades it for me – such a splendid sight.
    Have a great weekend!

    • A pure delight to hear from you, pc, and I, too, burst out laughing with that cheeky elk. We were pretty excited to come across the caribou/reindeer with the full rack, espec. with that green background to highlight the antlers. He had his head down most of the time, but at one moment he lifted up and Athena was quick with the camera. My warmest smiles to you….

  9. My favorite are the white-tailed deer. They look so enchanting. We used to see a lot of deer in our area but not so many these year. Perhaps because we seeing more coyotes and mountain lions! Yikes!

  10. We have some of the lighted deer species right here in Gilbert, Arizona, Jet. πŸ™‚ I’ve seen lots of moose and deer and a few elk, although the latter are, in the wild, often difficult to see as they’re quite shy. I’d love to find a caribou rack! They’re awesome! We came near a mother moose and calf once while riding, but although the calf found us quite interesting, the mother was ready to charge us if the calf got too close, so we wisely turned around and found another route home. Moose can run like the wind!


    • I loved your moose story, Janet, thanks so much. I haven’t seen many moose, regrettably, but they are formidable animals just by sheer size. I did not know they were fast, but it’s great that you knew and that you had the sense to turn around and give her her space. My warmest thanks.

  11. Those caribou antlers are quite something and must be so heavy to cart around on one’s head. No wonder they drop them every year! πŸ™‚ Love all your photos of the different types of deer. Of course I knew that deer and antelope aren’t the same thing, because of that old song, ‘Home On The Range. “Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam.Where the deer and the antelope play.” πŸ™‚ Great post as always, Jet and Athena. Have a wondrous holiday season.

    • I couldn’t believe how big those caribou antlers were, Sylvia. I was so glad Athena got a photo of them. We were allowed to touch them and boy were they heavy! I agree with you, they must be so heavy to carry around! Thanks so much for your lovely message and visit today, Sylvia, much appreciated.

  12. Wonderful post. These are only the familiar ones. There are some strange ones in other parts of the world. Did you know the antelope shed the sheaths of their horns every year? No other horned mammal does that.

    • Yes, there are some strange members of the deer family in other parts of the world, Craig. Interesting that you bring up antelope shedding their horn sheaths. I had just come upon it in the writing of this post, and I had never heard it before. Warmest thanks.

      • I love pronghorn, and can never get enough of them, but I’m sure you have seen loads more of them than me, Craig. That they are not an antelope is strange to me, and I love to see them run for they are so incredibly fast. The horn sheath is something I just learned about, and I am always learning more about this beautiful animal. I was staying at a guest house way out in the country in Colorado once, and the owner’s cousin had stopped by. I was telling her how excited I was to see so many pronghorn. She looked at me like I was from the moon, for pronghorn were about as exciting to her as a field mouse. Your comment reminded me of that, and I can imagine you have many stories to tell about pronghorn. Hey, maybe I’ll see one as a character in one of your books, with antlers that morph into different head gear or something. lol.

  13. Beautiful post, Jet. Your pictures brings us close to the various animals, shows their reaction clearly. It is delightful.

    I know Elk well from Sweden. They cross the property and munch what is
    tasty to them 😊 and pass on.If you meet a mother Elk with her young it is best to back off. They will do anything to protect them.

    Deers are also plentiful and will quite peacefully feed in the small birch copse on my land.
    So graceful and intelligent.


    • What a joy to hear from you, Miriam, thanks so much for stopping by. I thoroughly enjoyed your story about the elk in Sweden, your experiences with them, and your love for them. A treat to “see” you today, thank you.

    • When we were putting up the electric deer this week, the idea for this post came to me. So I’m glad you enjoyed the little twist at the end, Bill. Your comments and visits every single week are a great joy for me, thank you.

    • That little fawn was such a joy to behold! I’m glad you enjoyed it, Draco. We were in our car when that beautiful fawn trotted by, so the fear factor wasn’t there and she or he stuck around long enough for a good close-up. Enjoyed your humor about the deer and reindeer, my friend, and am grateful for your lovely visits today. It’s been wonderful to “see” you again.

  14. Interesting post! Enjoyed hearing the bugling elk. You’d expect a low, loud bray from such a huge animal instead of the squeaky, girlish scream! And loved seeing your holiday deer. Perfect for your property! Have the other creatures been leaving it alone?

    • Always a delight to hear from you, dear Nan. I’m glad you had a chance to view the YouTube because your reaction was the same as mine, the tone is much higher pitched than you’d expect for such a huge creature. So far so good on the holiday deer, it has survived high winds, rain, and yes, the other creatures have not yet nibbled the wiring as they sometimes like to. Thanks so much.

  15. If you ladies knew how many years I’ve tried, IN VAIN, to photograph the rare and elusive Holiday Deer…and here is Athena with TWO photos. It’s just not right. πŸ˜‰
    Very useful info with some of Athena’ best pictures. πŸ™‚

    • I laughed and laughed and laughed at your comment, Frank; in fact, as I type, I’m still laughing. I’m happy Athena was able to supply you with photos of the elusive Holiday Deer. Your comment was a delight, thank you.

  16. Pingback: Oh Deer β€” Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

  17. Love the pics and the information….I learn so much from your posts…thank you!!
    At our house in San Diego where we raised our kids, we had the Christmas holiday deer lighting family along our driveway every year. We lived at the end of a cul de sac with another family with kids same age bracket. Needless to say as the teen years came, the “sac” as we called it was busy with teenagers and many a morning during the holiday season I would find the lighted deer in mating positions. Happy Holidays to you and Athena!!

  18. Had no idea moose (or meese as I like to call them in the plural!) were part of the deer family. I fell in love with them on my trips to Alaska. I bought a tote bag just as I was leaving the airport at Anchorage decorated with meese… I use it all the time and get many compliments and questions about where I bought it. Now I wish I had bought five as it is wearing out. I also love elk and had several encounters on my trips to Yellowstone. Enjoyed this post.

    • How very wonderful to “see” you today, Rosyln, thanks for stopping by. I liked hearing about your experiences and reverence for the meese (I’ll go along with it, seems logical) and elk. It’s lovely to have a tote bag that brings you sweet memories. I, too, have many tote bags from trips — they’re more useful than coffee mugs and don’t overfill up my mug cabinet. Thanks so much, I’m heading over to see what you’ve been up to.

      • Thanks Jet. I decided I have to make time every morning to catch up with WordPress. I have gravitated over to Facebook where I post most of my photos but, of course, it’s a whole different experience. I miss the informative posts such as yours with Athena’s always wonderful photos. We’ll see how it goes!

  19. Thank you for the informative post of deer (with once again great photos from Athena). I have been fortunate to see elk in Alaska shedding their antler velvet (if that is the correct term). Quite impressive. We live in Michigan and have many white-tailed deer that chomp through our back yard. They tend to prefer my purple flowers most for some reason.

    Earlier today I was visiting a blog I follow called In Cahoots with Muddy Boots and the author, Sabine, posted some lovely photos of deer in her garden in the Portland, OR area. You might enjoy her site – https://incahootswithmuddyboots.com/2020/12/18/happy-friday-from-my-garden-11/

    Happy holidays!

  20. This was wonderful Jet, Thank You! And I learned a lot. Can’t even believe I didn’t know that deer drop their horns every year!!! We have so many deer around here and Bill and I have a glorious horn we found in the dunes on our coffee table! It’s grand, is beautiful to look at and makes a great back scratcher! πŸ˜… The shot of the laughing elk is awesome! Amazing as is the deer covered with lights! However did Y’all get him to stand still for so long?!! πŸ˜… But seriously….beautiful!!! Huge hugs and Happy New Year, to You and Athena beautiful Jet!!! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’•πŸ₯‚

  21. This was very informative Jet, interesting to know that the caribou is the same as a reindeer! One thing is confusing though: moose is called elk in Europe, and elk is called red deer in Europe, so is a moose then also the same as a red deer? Thanks Jet, I am behind again on your posts, but I’ll get there.

    • The confusion over these large mammals is a good point, Bertie. The scientific names help sort it out. Moose=Alces alces; elk=Cervus canadensis; red deer=Cervus elaphus. They are three different species. Wonderful to have you visit, Bertie, and thanks so much for your interest.

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