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Cerf de Virginie © MNHN - F-G Grandin

White-tailed deer

A deer whose range extends from Canada to Brazil, the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, is one of the most common large mammals in the Americas.


Class, order & family :

Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, Cervidae

Genus :


Species :


Lifespan :

14 to 16 years

Height and weight :

90 cm at the shoulder, 90 kg at the most

Gestation :

6 months, one to two babies

Natural habitat :

forests and marshy plains

Diet :

grasses, buds

Native region :

North America, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, northern Brazil

IUCN status: 

LC least concerned

Way of life

White-tailed deer live in small groups consisting of one or more females and their offspring, while the males are solitary. They are active at dawn and dusk and spend the day resting while ruminating. During the rut, males become aggressive with each other, fighting for the females. Carefully “groomed” by their mother, the fawns get rid of any odour detectable by carnivores. Although they are capable of standing up from birth, they don't move for the first few days of their life, well-camouflaged by their spotted coat in the undergrowth or at the foot of a tree while their mother goes to feed.

Distinguishing features

The white-tailed deer has a reddish-brown coat in summer and a grey-brown coat in winter, while its abdomen remains white. It can be characterised by its habit of raising its white tail when it runs. This move, which also gave rise to its name, serves as a warning signal for its fellow white-tailed deer, who quickly flee with a succession of impressive leaps. It can reach a top speed of 60 km/h. Its very sensitive sense of smell allows it to detect danger or predators from up to 90 m away.


Made famous by Walt Disney, the white-tailed deer was used as a model for the film “Bambi”.

In Quebec, it is often called “roe deer”, a name possibly given to it by the first European settlers who confused it with the deer from their own countries.

White-tailed deer are widespread, and even overpopulated in some areas, causing damage to crops or collisions with motorists. In the United States, its population has multiplied by 100 in just a century, going from 300,000 to 30 million!

It has been introduced in several countries, such as Finland and New Zealand.

Cerfs de Virginie © G. Proust
Cerfs de Virginie © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Cerf de Virginie © MNHN - F-G Grandin
Cerf de Virginie © MNHN - F-G Grandin