Spring is an active time for Sitka black-tailed deer, red fox, and mountain goats on Kodiak, especially once the weather warms, the snow on the mountains begins to melt, and the vegetation starts to grow again. All three species give birth in the spring, and while we rarely see nannies with their kids, we will soon start seeing does and fawns, and in a couple of months we’ll see young fox kits as they begin to play outside their dens.
Sitka black-tailed deer bucks begin growing a new set of antlers in the spring, and I’ve seen several with little nubs beginning to grow. During the spring and summer, the antlers receive a rich supply of blood and are covered by a fine membrane called “velvet”. At this time, the antlers are very fragile and are vulnerable to cuts and bruises. By August, antler growth slows, and they begin to harden, and a few weeks later, antler growth stops, blood flow to the antlers ceases, and the velvet dries up and falls off.
Mating season on Kodiak for Sitka black-tailed deer occurs from mid-October to late November. The gestation period is six to seven months, so fawns are born from late May through June. Does begin breeding when they are two and continue to produce fawns until they are ten to twelve years old. Does between the ages of five and ten are in their prime and usually produce two fawns a year.
Newborn fawns weigh between 6.0 and 8.8 lbs. (2.7 to 4.0 kg), and for the first two weeks, a fawn produces no scent, allowing the doe to leave the fawn hidden and safe from predators, while she browses for food to rebuild her energy reserves after giving birth.
Red foxes breed in February and March on Kodiak. Right after mating, the female makes one or more dens, and the extra dens are used if the original is disturbed. The den is a hole in the ground that measures approximately 15 by 20 ft. (4.57m x6.1m) and may have several entrances. Inside the den, the female constructs a grass-lined nest where the babies are born. The litter is born after a gestation period of 51 to 54 days, and an average litter consists of four kits; although, litters as large as ten are not uncommon. Kits weigh 4 ounces (113 grams) at birth. They have fur but are blind, deaf, and toothless. A kit cannot regulate its body temperature when it is born, and the mother must remain with it all times for the first two to three weeks. During this time, the father or adult females bring food to the mother. If the mother dies before the kits are old enough to care for themselves, the father will take over as the primary provider. The kits’ eyes open eight to ten days after birth, and they leave the den for the first time about a month later. Kits begin hunting on their own when they are three months old.
Breeding season for mountain goats occurs between late October and early December on Kodiak. Mountain goats seem to avoid mating with relatives, and billies may travel long distances to find suitable mates. Males breed with several females, but nannies breed with only one male. Nannies do not give birth until they are at least four years old, and billies between the ages of five and ten do most of the breeding. Nannies give birth in late May after a gestation period of 180 days, and they normally have only one kid, but sometimes produce twins. Twinning is more common when goat populations spread into a new habitat with an abundant food supply, and as the goat population on Kodiak has increased and expanded its range, biologists have noticed more twinning than is normal. Nannies seek out an isolated area to give birth but then form nursery groups with other nannies and kids. The kid remains with its mother at least until the next breeding season and may stay with her for several years.
It is always a thrill to see the young of any species of wildlife. Babies are shy but curious as they learn about their surroundings, and often they are unaware of potential dangers. It is important to remember not to approach any wildlife, but especially mothers and their young, too closely. If the mother runs one way and the baby the other, they may never reunite, and the baby is not yet equipped with the knowledge and skills to survive on his own.