The Afterlife of a Deer

We love our trail cameras! They give us the option of being in the woods 24/7 even when we can’t physically be in the woods 24/7. A few weeks ago we found a young deer dead at Hall’s Lake Natural Area and immediately thought it would be a great place to stick a camera.

A fawn from 2019 dead of unknown causes – 10 January 2020

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option on that day. On our next trip to Hall’s Lake, a recent snowfall covered the ground and we couldn’t find the deer under the snow. We didn’t get back to Hall’s Lake for another ten days. During this time scavengers had found the deer.

The same fawn – 23 January 2020

Finally we were able to get a camera on site. Too bad the rechargeable batteries in the camera were mostly dead. They died completely before capturing a single image. This meant no images for a further five days.

Finally on January 28th we got working batteries in the camera. By now, well more than half of the carcass was gone and we didn’t have a ton of hope. That night we got our fist images from the camera – too bad our camera angle was off… But what the camera did show was great.

Bobcat at deer carcass – 28 January 2020
Bobcat feeding on carcass – 28 January 2020

One of our bobcats spent a lot of time at the site feeding on the carcass over the course of several hours and then appearing again the following night without feeding. We also recorded more than one raccoon coming to feed individually on the deer carcass.

On January 31st we were able to get back out to Hall’s Lake and check the camera. At this point we adjusted the camera angle. Most of the meat was gone from the carcass by now and we weren’t sure if many animals would continue to visit the carcass. Luckily, the carcass continues to be a magnet for scavengers of various sizes. Raccoons again have made multiple appearances.

Raccoon feeding on the deer carcass – 31 January 2020

We’ve only recorded one other mammal species feeding on the carcass – mice! We’re not sure of the exact species of mouse; both the White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and the deer mouse (P. maniculatus) are native to mid-Michigan. Between January 31st and February 3rd, mice appeared on camera more than any other animals. We never saw more than two mice at any one time and they rarely stopped to feed on the carcass – mostly just scurrying on and around it in the dark.

Mouse (just right of center) on deer carcass – 31 January 2020

The mammals visiting the carcass only did so during nighttime hours. During the day the carcass was left to the birds. It should be no surprise that crows found the carcass. Members of the crow family (Corvidae) are well known scavengers.

A trio of crows feeds at the deer carcass – 01 February 2020

Crows were not the only corvids to attend to the carcass. Like their larger cousins, blue jays also visited the site on numerous occasions. Like all members of their family, blue jays have an omnivorous diet and will gladly dine on carrion if given the opportunity.

A pair of blue jays feeds – 01 February 2020

The final avian visitor of the carcass may be a surprise to some readers. A hairy woodpecker appeared several times at the carcass and fed enthusiastically on small bits of meat and fat. This shouldn’t be too big of a surprise considering how ravenously woodpeckers feed on suet in feeders. We also expect to see chickadees and maybe nuthatches visit the carcass, but they have failed to appear so far.

Hairy woodpecker at the deer carcass – 31 January 2020

This is not the end of the story for this deer carcass. There is still plenty of meat to attract scavengers so we left our camera in places. This carcass will have a life for many months as scavengers continue to feed. Stay tuned!