While male deer are called bucks, the females are known as does, and they are distinct both physically and behaviorally. Does live differently than males do, and they take a more hands-on approach to parenting their young, known as fawns. Without the care and attention of a doe, a fawn may not survive, demonstrating how important the nurturing characteristics of this animal are.
The exact physical characteristics of any deer, male or female, depend on the species. For example, the white-tail deer -- the smallest type of North American deer -- sports a distinct tail that is brown on top and white on the bottom, along with a coat that changes colors along with the seasons. What sets the doe apart from the buck, however, are the antlers. Bucks grow antlers made of living tissue, which they shed one a year. Does, on the other hand, do not grow antlers.
Life in Groups
While bucks typically live alone until the mating season begins, does are more social creatures. They frequently live and travel in groups -- if the doe gave birth following the previous mating season, she travels with her young. Otherwise, she travels with other does. Does in the group look out for one another -- for example, a white-tail doe sensing danger will flee the area with the white of her tail exposed, serving as a silent warning signal to the others.
During the late-autumn mating season, or rut, does are approached by bucks, who come out of their solitary travels in search of partners. The female is passive during the mating process, waiting as bucks spar with their antlers to determine who gets to mate with which females. One impregnated, the doe carries her young for about seven months, after which she gives birth to one to four fawns.
Species and Sizes
Deers come in more than one species, and while their sizes can vary considerably depending on the species, the doe is generally smaller than the buck. In white-tailed deer, for example, the doe may be only negligibly smaller than the buck -- does of this species can weigh as much as 140 pounds, while bucks can weigh as little as 150 pounds.
In other species, the size difference is more dramatic. In the Columbian black-tail deer or the Rocky Mountain mule deer, for example, the doe can be less than half the size of the buck.
According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, most deer -- does and bucks alike -- don't live more than five years, and very few live more than 10 years. A doe reproduces regularly throughout her life, though. She can start reproducing at the age of 1 and will continue giving birth to one or several fawns once a year. A doe and her fawns develop a close relationship until the young are weaned, an approximately three-month period characterized by careful protection from predators. The fawns spend most of that time hiding in the woods or brush, visited by the mother for feedings three or four times daily.
Because deer are generally killed by predators, the elements or human interference more than old age, the doe still has reproductive potential at the time of her death.
- Norcross Wildlife Foundation: General Facts: Whitetail Deer
- National Geographic: White-Tailed Deer
- State of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection: White-Tailed Deer
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources: Deer Fawn - FAQ
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife: Living with Wildlife: Deer
- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries: The Buck Stops Here
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.