The Hidden Life of Deer

Lessons from the Natural World

ISBN-13: 978-0061792113
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 02/23/2016
Pages: 256 pages
Product dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches

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The Hidden Life of Deer
Lessons from the Natural World

In The Hidden Life of Deer, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Dogs, turns her attention to wild deer, and the many lessons we can learn by observing nature. A narrative masterpiece and a naturalist’s delight, The Hidden Life of Deer is based on the twelve months Thomas, a renowned anthropologist, spent studying the local deer population near her home in New Hampshire.


“The Hidden Life of Deer is a glorious achievement, giving new meaning to what it is both to be human and to be alive on this planet of wonders.” –New York Review of Books

“In this slim and amiable book Ms. Thomas gathers a pile of small, not uninteresting observations about deer, and in doing so she subtly alters the way you look at them in a forest or from a window.” –New York Times


The Year Without Acorns

It began with a bird feeder by the kitchen door. The chickadees chose only the sunflower hearts and threw all other seeds to the ground where three gray squirrels and a red squirrel ate them. One day the seeds were discovered by a passing flock of nine or ten wild turkeys. My husband and I were thrilled to see wild turkeys near the house. I put out a little corn for them. Soon a flock of twenty-eight turkeys came for the corn. What should I have done? By the end of that winter I was feeding fifty-three turkeys.
[expand title=”Show More”]We rarely saw the turkeys in the summer. They were finding food in the woods and also in our field, where long grass hid them. But they came to our house again in the fall, just the small original flock at first, then other flocks, every morning just before dawn. Their calls would wake me, and I would bring out a pail of corn. My presence would scare them, and they would fly away. This was distressing. It takes energy to launch a bird the size of a turkey, and more energy if she must leap straight up into the air without first running a little way to gain momentum. The corn I offered was wasted if the turkeys had to spend their calories in unnecessary flying. I began putting the corn out at night, so it would be ready for them in the morning.

One dark night after the first snowfall, I went out wearing a white bathrobe. I had no reason to make noise and therefore went quietly, and to my surprise I found myself right next to three deer. Because I was in white against the white snow, they didn’t pay much attention at first, and then moved off without panic, so I distributed the corn I was carrying and went back for more. After that the deer came often. Never again did they let me near them, but I watched them from the window after the moonlight returned.

The winter of 2007-2008 was hard on wildlife in our area. The acorn crop, which fattens many animals in the fall and feeds then in the winter, was almost nonexistent. The oak trees bore nothing but a few miserable acorns that were literally smaller than peas, cup and all. A knowledgeable friend told me something very interesting, which is that nut trees do this from time to time in order to cut down on their predators. If the trees always produced a standard crop of nuts, the animals who eat them would increase in number until they reached the carrying capacity of the environment, and were eating every nut that fell. The trees would have no chance to reproduce. To handle the problem, the trees hold back and let the animals starve. The oaks held back in 2007, creating a dangerous hardship for turkeys, deer, bears, and many others.