The Key Deer are Unique and lives only in the Florida Keys
The Key Deer has been the focus of much attention in the Florida Keys for as long as I can remember. Big Pine Key residents have to tolerate several restrictions caused by the large number of deer sharing their island.
At present the Key Deer is not found in the Upper Keys , Marathon or Key West . They’re only found in the Lower Keys. It’ll be interesting to see if the powers that be will try and relocate them to these areas in the future.
Where did they come from? Well, no records tell us their origin. It’s thought that the deer migrated here from the mainland many thousand years ago. There was a land bridge connecting to the mainland. When the glaciers melted the ocean rose creating the islands we now call the Florida Keys.
The earliest known record of the deer in the Florida Keys was from the journal of a shipwrecked Spaniard. He was held prisoner by the Indians that lived in Key West and Lower Keys in the 1550's. His records told of the deer in and around Key West. They were killed for food by the Indians and crews from the ships that stopped here.
The Key Deer is a subspecies of the Virginia white-tailed deer. They’re the smallest of the white-tailed deer. Records show that they inhabit twenty-five islands ranging from the Johnston Keys to Sugarloaf Key and east to Big Pine Key.
Their height is only about thirty inches, but some are smaller. Does weigh up to sixty-five pounds and the bucks can weigh as much as eighty pounds.
They feed on native plants. Thatch palm berries, mangroves and palmetto are just a few of the many plants they feed on. Their systems can tolerate a small amount of salt water. They’ll drink brackish water as well. But they must have fresh water to survive. During times of a long drought a few are always found dead.
Key Deer rutting season is in the fall. The gestation period 204 days. The fawns are born in the spring. They only weigh two to four pounds at birth.
Locals used to hunt the deer as a food source. This was stopped in 1957. Due to the over hunting and human population growth they were placed on the endangered species list. Their numbers had shrunk to as few as fifty. Today their numbers are around 2000.
Most residents are unhappy about the officials relocating the families of Key Deer to the neighboring islands. We don’t want all the restrictions that are part of the package. For one, you’re not allowed to have a fence. The problem with that is, if you don’t have a fence the deer will walk into your yard and eat all your beautiful plant. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for your landscaping they’ll take it to the ground. Also the thought of having to go 35 mph after dark thru the entire Lower Keys is crazy.
Big Pine has had a building moratorium for many years due to the deer population. Seventy percent of them live there.
I saw one here on Summerland a couple of years ago in the early morning. It looked so out of place. This neighborhood is all dead end streets. It was on the last street. A little later I saw it on the first street that turns out onto US 1. It missed the turn and went to the end of that street. Someone told me later they saw the deer jump into the canal and swim out toward the ocean.
If you would like to see these small beautiful deer while visiting the Florida Keys, you’ll have no problem locating them. It’s easiest to find them at dusk and dawn. A sure location is the field at the far end of Key Deer Blvd. They’re also along Watson Blvd. They’re always on No Name Key just over the Old Wooden Bridge.
In the old day we would go with a bag of snacks and feed the deer many evenings at No Name Key. All you had to do was rattle the snack bag and droves of them would walk out of the woods. This is very illegal. This isn’t a cool thing to do or try today. You’ll get a stiff ticket for this.
Key Deer have gained popularity with the public and are now seen as an asset to the Florida Keys.
Return from Key Deer to The Lower Keys
Return from Key Deer to N The Florida Keys