September 01, 2017

My efforts to video tape the first year in the life of an albino buck abruptly ended on June 18 when the white deer was killed by an unknown motorist as it attempted to cross a city street in Marquette that it had safely crossed hundreds of times previously. The albino buck and his normally colored brother had only been separated from their mother for several weeks when the white deer was killed. The buck was barely a year old when his life ended.

The young doe that was their mother gave birth to the twin bucks during late May or early June of 2016 not far from where I live on the north side of Marquette. Those fawns resulted from the doe’s second pregnancy. She had a single fawn in the same area the year before that was also an albino buck.

The doe’s first white fawn was also struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross a city street. That button buck only made it until December before being hit. Although that albino was not killed in the collision, it was seriously hurt and its injuries led to its death.

The doe’s fawning territory is a thick patch of brush that is perfect for raising fawns, even white ones that don’t blend into their environment. The brush is so dense, fawns can easily hide and remain out of sight. Since the patch of brush is within the city limits, the number of predators is minimized.

The problem is that patch of brush is surrounded by city streets. Since the speed limit is 25 miles per hour on those streets, the threat to deer crossing streets to and from that patch of brush is reduced, but not eliminated. Some drivers don’t follow the speed limits.

I’m convinced the driver of the vehicle that killed the yearling albino buck during June was speeding, and that’s why they didn’t report the accident. They may have also been impaired.

The mother of the albinos is apparently careful when crossing roads because she has avoided collisions so far. It’s too bad she didn’t pass that trait on to her offspring. Since that doe has produced albino fawns two years in a row, she obviously has genetics favoring albinism. The buck(s) that have bred her during the fall of 2014 and 2015 also apparently have albino genetics.

Genetics favoring albinism is more common among whitetails in Marquette than many other areas. Those genetics can be traced back to an albino buck that was part of a captive herd at Presque Isle Park for many years. That white buck passed his genes on to the does within that herd.

When excess deer from that deer pen were released in the park, both before and after the fence was removed, those genetics spread throughout the city. One of the normally colored does released from that pen gave birth to extremely rare twin albino bucks during 1992. I was fortunate enough to photograph those twin white bucks and document their first sets of antlers.

One of the brothers grew forked antlers and the other had 5 points. Those bucks dispersed from Presque Isle to the west and ended up spreading their genetics to that part of the city. Even though albinos were protected at the time, the 5-pointer disappeared after growing his first set of antlers. A vehicle may have hit him, but I suspect he was poached.

The forkhorn grew a respectable set of 9-point antlers as a 2 ½-year-old and played an even more active role during the rut. The 9-pointer disappeared that fall. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be able to not only follow the twin albinos throughout their first year of life, but to also monitor one of the white bucks for two years.

Although the streets around the patch of brush where the doe has given birth to albino fawns the last two years increases the vulnerability of those deer to road kill, the small size of their refuge made it easier to monitor those whitetails. It also made the white deer more visible to motorists. Many motorists were thrilled to see the white deer as the family crossed a road in front of them or grazed in one of the openings along those streets.

The doe spent most of the summer with her twin buck fawns in that thick patch of brush. As the fawns got older and more mobile, however, they moved around more, sometimes leaving their home turf for days at a time. I’m sure that was the doe’s way of introducing her fawns to new areas.

I also noticed that the doe didn’t always have both fawns with her. On occasion, she would just have the albino with her or simply his brother. The missing fawn would show up anywhere from a half hour to a day later. I’ve seen the same thing among other does with twin fawns, so it’s obviously not unusual for older fawns to become separated from their mothers.

It’s actually common for does to be separated from their fawns for hours at a time even when they are young. As fawns age and become more independent, it makes sense that a doe’s offspring would be on their own at various times.

After the leaves fell during the fall, that patch of brush where the doe and fawns had been spending most of their time didn’t provide as much security cover, so the threesome moved around more often to different areas. When winter arrived, they spent part of the snow season at Presque Isle Park.

They moved back to their summer range by spring. Then the bucks separated from their mother as she was preparing to have fawns again during early June.

The albino buck and his brother were in the process of growing their first sets of antlers when the white deer was killed. I was anxious to see what type of antlers the albino buck would grow for his first set. Now that won’t be possible.