Sunday, December 13, 2009


Recently friends of mine found the carcass of a large, healthy, fresh-killed female white-tailed deer that had been pulled down by wolves/coyotes on their property, just before the first heavy snowfall of the winter.

This is never a pretty sight.

Anthropomorphists live in some fairyland of "noble beasts" without terror and savagery.

The reality is that cowardly canine predators run the terrified deer to the point of exhaustion, drag it down from behind and begin eating the deer alive.

One wonders how long it takes for a deer to die from blood loss?

We wanted to see if we could get a photographic record of the killer(s), so we set up my automatic, infra-red camera over the scene and left it for a couple of days.

That was more than a week ago. The only visitors to the carcass over that time have been a Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk and a bunch of Ravens and Crows. (BTWay, did you know that a flock of Crows is called a "murder"?)

Which brings us to the point of this story. How did those scavengers find that fresh carcass, deep in a hemlock/pine forest? I doubt they could have seen it from the air.

Which leaves scent as the only other possibility. And leaves us with a new understanding of how our natural world really works.

I knew that Turkey Vultures locate decaying food by scent from an earlier experience.

I'd once collected a couple of road-killed raccoons from just down the road, and carried them out of sight into the woods well down the trail behind my home. I hid them well, deep under the dense early-summer foliage of some mature beech and oak trees. They were completely hidden from overhead view.

Couple of days later I was enjoying an early evening stroll and was more than a little surprised to startle three vultures feeding on the raccoon carcasses.

By that time the coons were pretty "ripe" and probably could have been scented from high in the sky.

But the deer carcass was fresh, not more than two or three days old, and the weather was cool, freezing at night and close to freezing during the day.

There couldn't have been much scent for the birds to pick up.

So, one assumes, the scenting power of scavenging birds must be quite acute.

The camera is still in position and we'll be monitoring activites as long as we can. That may not be as long as we'd like, however, because the weatherman is predicing -15 to -20 overnight in a day or so and the camera may not like those conditions.


  1. One only wonders why the wolves/coyotes didn't eat the rest of the deer carcass or call the rest of their pack to the scene. That's a lot of deer that went to waste (well, at least the scavengers got it).

  2. Well, "waste" is a broad term. For example, as a photographer of insects, I understand that little in the natural world is "wasted". save perhaps that organic matter buried in a land fill, and even then it may serve some purpose.

    In any event, the carcass was moved and couldn't be found. Likely a bear. We'll have a look in March to see what we can find (or in May to find what we can smell).