Cohabitating With Campus Wildlife

Jamison Guice, Campus Carrier features editor

Kelsee Brady, Campus carrier asst. features editor

White-tailed deer

Wildlife such as deer, cattle, squirrels and geese live alongside students on the Berry campus where they can live and wander in common places such as sidewalks, pastures, trees and lakes. Learning more about their development and habits can increase students’ understanding of the species and allow them to peacefully coexist with these animals.

Dana Professor of Animal Science George Gallagher said that, year-round, there are about 1,500 to 1,700 white-tailed deer with a lifespan of about seven to ten years located on Main and Mountain Campus. He said they commonly live on the edges of woods and forests, where meadows and pastures are found. By remaining at the edge of a forest, the deer can graze for food but remain near the dense foliage of the trees if protection is needed.

As grazing animals, deer prefer any available plant foods. Gallagher said that in the summer, the deer mostly feed on flowers, leafy grasses and different kinds of seeds and nuts. During the colder seasons, the deer will feed on available plants, twigs and soft tree bark.

However, even if the deer are feeding near academic and residence halls, interacting with these animals can have a negative effect on them.

“Deer are one of the few species that readily habituate to people,” Gallagher said.

Deer become easily accustomed to people, especially when they are repeatedly aproached. Gallagher said that this can negatively impact what is referred to as their flight-zone. This is the distance in which an animal will take flight once they sense danger, or a student. This can become jeopardized if the animals become accustomed to people, and as a result, their flight-zone will gradually shrink.

“A lot of times, it is our perception that the deer are completely tame and no longer a wild animal,” Gallagher said. “That is a bad idea.”

Jonathan Baggett, chief of campus police, advises students to observe the animals from a far distance. Throughout the years he said that it is very rare to see a student get close enough to a deer in order for it to let them touch it or even hurt them. However, Baggett said that since the Berry deer are accustomed to people, be aware of their proximity.

During fawning season, May through July, baby deer pop up in odd places on campus such as under trees, bushes or even roads. This is because the doe, the female deer, leaves them in a specific location and returns every four to eight hours, Gallagher said.

However, many people find these animals alone and want to help since they do not see the mom around. Gallagher said, most likely, the doe is nearby and waiting for the human to leave. Another danger is if a fawn imprints on a human, especially while the doe is away. So, if a person is too close to the animal, the fawn is at risk of becoming attached, which can result in its death.

“Since the deer can imprint very easy on people, it is one of the few wildlife species that can’t be legally rehabbed,” Gallagher said. “The reason really is because rehabilitation needs to take them back where they were and they can’t because they’ve imprinted on people. And then you’ve got a disaster when they get big because they won’t go back into the wild.”

Furthermore, Baggett said that many people do not understand that when they get near or pick up the animal, they are doing more harm than good.

The deer that live on the Main and Mountain Campus live in the wildlife refuge area where they are not hunted. The area that surrounds the college, behind the Old Mill, marks the end of the refuge and is the Wildlife Management Area where scheduled hunts take place.

Angus beef cows

While not considered a wild animal, the Berry College Angus Beef Herd often come into contact with students. Supervisor of Beef Cattle Operations Tom Harris said that there are multiple herds spread throughout the pastures across Berry’s campus that are separated by their stage in the reproduction cycle. Some herds found on campus are the young Angus cows, the mature cows and bred heifers, according to Harris. Heifers are cows which have not given birth to a calf previously.

The diet of the herds varies depending on the season and foraging available to the cows. Grass is a large portion of their diet but during the winter, the diet of the cows consists of hay and grain. Harris said the large number of pastures available on campus allows for rotational grazing, so the grass can grow back and replenish itself.

“A blade of grass will grow as long as it’s able to grow,” Harris said. “If it’s grazed too short, then it starts to pull on the roots and the root system. Then when a drought hits, you lose all of your grass.”

Harris said the Angus cows are on a strict schedule of vaccinations which prevent them from having any diseases that could spread through the herd, other animals or people.

“We try to keep them as healthy as possible,” Harris said. “We have a vaccination plan where the weaned cattle are given their shots at about four months of age and then four to six weeks after that they are given their booster shots. After that they come in and they get their vaccines once a year.”

Harris said that he expects students to interact with the cows, but only if they are employees of the Beef Unit. He said that other students can risk injury because they could enter a pasture with newborn calves or interfere with a bull and cow mating.

“That’s not really a risk you want to take,” Harris said.

Harris said that mating the Angus herd consists of synchronizing the reproductive cycles of herds which allows the cows to be artificially inseminated by bulls from all over the country.

Once cows are artificially inseminated, if the process is not successful, bulls from the beef herd are let out into the pastures to breed with them.

This process begins early in the spring semester and continues throughout the entirety of the semester.

A typical cow in one of the Angus herds reproduces once a year, according to Harris. Cows are kept in the herd as long as they are physically able, meaning that they are healthy, reproducing and not suffering.

“One of the oldest was probably about 17 years old, but usually around 12 years old they are getting pretty feeble,” Harris said.

With nearly 30 years of experience, Harris spoke about the quality and experience that the Angus beef herd provides to the students.

“I enjoy working with the students and I hope that we continue to have the beef cattle here,” Harris said. “It’s a great program and it’s been very helpful, especially to our pre-vet students.”


Also on campus are squirrels belonging to the Sciuridae family, which means they are scientifically classified as a rodent. At Berry, there are three different types of tree-dwelling squirrels: eastern gray squirrels, fox squirrels and flying squirrels. According to Christopher Mowry, associate professor of biology, the species share similarities and differences.

Mowry said that the eastern gray squirrels are the most common on campus. They are gray, bushy-tailed and are seen on the ground more often than the other two species because of their abundance. He said the fox squirrel, fewer in number, also has a bushy tail. However, their faces are usually black and white. The flying squirrels are seen the least because they remain hidden within the trees, Mowry said. This species is mostly active at night in order to avoid large birds such as eagles and hawks.

“They are called flying squirrels because they can glide,” Mowry said. “They can put their arms out and they have patches of skin between their legs and front arms which, theoretically, lets them glide.”

When nesting, squirrels are likely to either build a nest in the tops of trees or burrow in a preexisting hole. Mowry said that they build their nests from leaves and twigs found on the ground.

“Flying squirrels usually try and find a cavity to nest in,” Mowry said. “So, if there is some sort of naturally occurring hole in tree, they can get in there.”

The three species of squirrels on campus share a similar diet. During the summer and winter, the animals eat mostly nuts, seeds and plants when available, according to Mowry. He said that instead of hibernating during the cold seasons, squirrels will bury and store foods such as acorns to eat when needed.

He said they are mostly herbivores, but when necessary, squirrels can be omnivores. So, since squirrels are a part of the rodent family, their diet can include a wide range of items including fungi, insects and animal eggs.

However, Mowry advises against feeding and interacting with squirrels. He said that even though they can be considered omnivorous, human food is still processed, refined and unhealthy for an animal to consume.

“Animals are adapted to their own diet,” Mowry said. “That’s where they get their nutrients from. The microorganisms that are in their gut are specifically adapted for those kinds of foods. So, when we try and give them food that they are not adapted to, we can potentially do them harm.”

Further, directly feeding squirrels or even leaving food on the ground for them can affect their social behavior. Mowry said they can become more dependent on people for food and will begin to stay on the ground looking for leftovers.

As a wild animal, squirrels can be dangerous. While the animal may be considered cute, the rodents can still potentially carry diseases such as tetanus. Mowry advises that if an injured squirrel is found, a student should never try to personally rehab it. There are campus veterinarians that can be contacted if an injured animal is found.

Geese and a swan

Domesticated geese and one swan live at Swan Lake located on Mountain Campus. Associate Professor of Biology Reneé Carleton said that both of these animals were intentionally brought to campus in order to live near the water. For example, she said the mute swan, native to Europe, was bought by SGA about ten years ago.

Both of the animals live year-round on campus. Carleton said that the swan is unable to move to a different location because one of its wings is missing important flight feathers. The domesticated geese are also either missing flight feathers needed to migrate or have bonded to Swan Lake and are unlikely to leave, according to Carleton.

Carleton said by being near water, these animals receive protection from predators, especially for nesting. She said that both geese and swans build nests in a bowl-shape where eggs can be laid. However, because the animals want to protect the nests, they are placed away from the shorelines on small islands where most predators cannot get to them.

“Being waterfowl, their feet are webbed,” Carleton said. “They don’t spend as much time on land as they do water because they have evolved in that way.”

Carleton said that the geese and swan eat a vegetable-based diet, so this means that they mainly eat plant material. Their diet can include foods such as aquatic plants and grasses, plant bulbs and flowers. By eating the plants around the water, Carleton said they are able to contribute to the small ecosystem they live in because the animals keep the plants from overrunning Swan Lake.

When visiting Swan Lake, Carleton advises not to feed the geese or swan. She said if they are fed foods such as bread, it is not a part of their natural diet and it can negatively affect their digestion.

“The geese are used to having people feed them,” Carleton said. “So, they will come up to you and get aggressive if they think ‘hey, you’re not giving me something.’”

As an alternative to bread, she said that frozen peas are healthier for the animals because they are vegetables. Carleton said if a student is ever approached by an aggressive goose or swan to back away slowly. Also, she said to be aware of the location of the swan because it is extremely territorial. The reason why is because the animal believes it is protecting its home from others. If a swan is attempting to defend its territory, Carleton said they can flap their wings and peck with their beak.

“If the swan is on the bank where you could be, I would go somewhere else,” Carleton said. “If it is out in the pond itself, then it is usually pretty comfortable with having people around. If it starts coming at you, then I would back away.”

Carleton recommends Garden Lakes, also located on Mountain Campus, where migratory waterfowl often visit during the months of November and December. She said birds such as Canadian geese and fish-eating ducks visit the lake where people can watch from a safe distance.

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