Florida’s Key Deer

Florida Key Deer

They’re the size of a big dog only with bigger, soft, brown, pleading eyes; no wonder people want to feed them.

Florida Key Deer
This young buck is looking hopefully up at Rob whose shadow is cast into the picture.

The federally endangered Key deer only exist in the lower Florida Keys. They are a subspecies of the common white-tailed deer.  Like most animals who become trapped on islands, evolution has made them smaller.  They are half the size of their cousins, standing just 24-32″ at the shoulder, and don’t reproduce nearly as efficiently.

Florida Key Deer
Doe and fawn

There are about 800 Key deer congregating mostly on Big Pine Key (home of the 8000 acre National Key Deer Refuge) and No Name Key during the dry season. 

These keys have year-round freshwater sources.  This high concentration of deer in a populated area results in a lot of deer-human interaction. The speed limit on the overseas highway (US Highway 1) is reduced to 35 mph at night when the deer are more active. This has resulted in far fewer collisions than in the past.

Development seems to have both benefited and harmed the Key deer.  The creation of lawns, grasslands, and water sources has expanded deer habitat, while fences, roads, the presence of pet dogs, and high-density housing have reduced it.  The people who live here are very protective of the deer.

During the rainy seasons, the key deer will range throughout all of the lower keys from Bahia Honda in the northeast to Sugar Loaf Key in the southwest. Florida Key Deer

Surprisingly, they are excellent swimmers and use all of the 26 islands and keys within this range.  They have adapted to use all of the habitats on their range; mangroves, pine forests, and freshwater wetlands.

The deer are very comfortable around people and don’t pay much attention to our presence. They will graze and meander without much of a second glance. In the case when a person is in their path, they maintain a scant six-foot distance and study closely for any behaviors suggestive of a handout as they slowly pass by.  Like the people in the Conch Republic, they are quite chill, never in a hurry, and never really ruffled.

Sheila and deer
And you don’t even have to leave your rental to see them.


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