High speed flight is both a blessing and a curse

High speed flight is both a blessing and a curse

I’m not going to say I was “blasting” down the road as I pedaled toward home from work the other night, but I was moving at a pretty good clip. Bicycle travel is more of a tortured slog most mornings and evenings at this time of year with my speed constrained by multiple layers of clothing and relentless headwinds that race across the spaces where corn used to be to stand in my path at every turn. Still, there I was in the momentary wind shadow of the last stand of corn in the township feeling like I’d just crested a mountain and was on the way back down.

Not one given to premonition, I’m going to chalk what happened next up to an over-active imagination. As I rode, I had the thought that if a deer came blasting out of the corn at that very moment and plowed me over, they’d probably find me the next morning scattered like a day-glo yellow plane crash across the berm, hoof prints and tiny tufts of deer hair dotting the scene.

No sooner had that thought bubbled from my brain than a basket-racked buck shot from the corn not more than 10 yards down range of my spinning spokes, moving so swiftly his feet barely touched the asphalt as we came within just a few feet of colliding at full speed.

Deer don’t move that fast in order to get to something. Those were the afterburners of a buck that was running away. So it is that one of the deer’s greatest assets can prove one of his most powerful downfalls in an environment woven thick with roadways. It’s a tough irony for the white-tailed deer, a species that has developed through the eons a survival skill set anchored in the early detection of danger and rapid flight away from the threat.

In a world without man, the fastest deer would likely take the day. For animals tuned to flight rather than fight, sheer speed is a primary key to survival. It is not the only one, however. If you think in terms of an animal’s odds of arriving at reproductive adulthood, a lot of other things come into play, beginning, of course, at the very beginning. A fawn that’s mother is keen to her surroundings and skilled at the art of distracting a potential threat away from her resting fawn has done well for her progeny, but that fawn must hold true to its instinctive tendency as well.

The fawn that beds down and waits while its mother flees — a behavior that isn’t taught or rehearsed — is very often the most likely to survive. If it does not, the fawn nearby that did a better job of remaining still and quiet is the one that will grow up and reproduce. A classic example of “natural selection,” we see the fawn with the more finely tuned instinct grow to pass along that same instinct to his or her own young through its genes.

All of this natural history is to simply remind you to slow down a bit and be aware of the possibility of a whitetail intercepting your path at just about any time. They aren’t running to punch out your headlights. They’re running because for thousands of years that’s what determined which deer lived to make more deer. Up until the arrival of man and his mechanical locomotion, it was a darn good strategy.

For comments about this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com. You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.