The wide world of deer

The wide world of deer

As we continue into this holiday season, I am amazed by the effects that the weather takes on our surrounding wilderness. What better animal to kick off the festivities than our beloved reindeer? Although these animals are not local to the Bay Area, I’ll connect them to animals that are nearby and fun to spot!

Reindeer are part of the deer family and share many traits with their relatives (long legs, hooves, and antlers). They are often split into two groups: domesticated and wild. The wild populations are referred to as caribou while the domesticated are often called reindeer. Some scientists believe that reindeer were some of the first domesticated animals!

Reindeer are the only species of deer in which both genders grow antlers. These antlers are extremely large and heavy, up to 51 inches in males and 20 inches in females. They are made of bone and covered with velvety skin that contains blood vessels to provide oxygen to the growing bone. Often used for sparring matches, these antlers can lead to death or conquest. If successful, the dominant buck will earn breeding rights. These antlers shed off once a year as the testosterone levels decrease, activating cells that split the antlers from the skull, and regrow even larger than before.

Many of us are familiar with the story of a certain red-nosed reindeer, and, although they cannot fly, some reindeer share this trait. Reindeer have 25% more capillaries in their nasal architecture, each carrying red, oxygen-filled blood. When the weather turns cold, blood flow to the nose will increase in order to keep them warm, creating that red color. This is necessary due to the reindeer’s inability to sweat. Their unique ability to warm cold air through special turbinate bones in the nasal cavity differs them from other species of deer.

Reindeer are incredibly social and often travel in herds that can hold up to 500,000 members in the spring. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there are currently almost 3.5 million caribou within North America!

A deer is any member of the Cervidae family which consists of about 90 different species of hoofed mammals. Many species within this category can be spotted around the Bay Area! Animals such as the Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, the Mule Deer, and the Fallow Deer (only in Point Reyes as they were introduced by humans) can be seen along hiking trails and even near civilization.

Mule deer
According to SFGate, a great place to spot different species of deer and elk is Pierce Ranch in Point Reyes National Seashore. Although it is a far drive, it is worth it to see so many animals! If you were looking for something closer, I went down to San Jose to the Rancho Cañada Del Oro open space preserve and was able to see so many different birds and wildlife. I also go mountain biking at the Arastradero preserve every week and have seen something new almost every time. Just two weeks ago, I was able to see a couple of deer and a coyote!

By Teen Docent, Madeleine Chen


Buisse, Alexandre. Strolling reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the Kebnekaise valley, Lappland, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons. 2007.

Hustvedt. A mule deer in a field covered in snow, just west of Boulder, CO. Wikimedia Commons. 2008.