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Lesson 4: Deer Habitat Suitability

Keywords: white-tailed deer, habitat

Prepared by: David Jackson, Extension Educator

Lesson Plan Grade Level: 6-12th

Total Time Required for Lesson: 1 hour classroom and half day field trip and assessment

Setting: Classroom, library, and outdoor forested habitat

Topics: wildlife habitat

Goals for the Lesson

Upon Completion of this lesson students will be able to:

    • Name three different types of Pennsylvania habitats.

    • Define habitat suitability.

    • Name three factors that affect habitat suitability for all wildlife.

    • Describe the habitat requirements of white-tailed deer.

    • Evaluate a habitat type based on its suitability for white-tailed deer.

Materials Needed

State Standards Addressed:

  • 1.2.8.A Reading Critically in All Content Areas – Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas. (PA State Standard Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening)

  • 1.4.8.B Types of Writing – Write multi-paragraph informational pieces (e.g., letters, descriptions, reports, instructions, essays, articles, interviews). (PA State Standard Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening)

  • 3.2.7.B Inquiry and Design – Apply process knowledge to make and interpret observations. (PA State Standard Science)

  • 4.6.7.A Ecosystems and their Interactions – Explain the flows of energy and matter from organism to organism within an ecosystem.  (PA State Standard Environment and Ecology)

  • 4.6.7.C Ecosystems and their Interactions – Explain how ecosystems change over time.  (PA State Standard Environment and Ecology)

  • 4.7.7.A Threatened, Endangered, and Extinct Species – Describe diversity of plants and animals in ecosystems. (PA State Standard Environment and Ecology)

  • 4.7.7.B Threatened, Endangered, and Extinct Species – Explain how species of living organisms adapt to their environment. (PA State Standard Environment and Ecology)

  • 4.7.7.C Threatened, Endangered, and Extinct Species – Explain natural or human actions in relation to the loss of species. (PA State Standard Environment and Ecology)

Methods: Lecture and Hands-on observation and discovery of environment

Doing the Activity

Part 1: Habitat Requirements

  • This activity will help students recognize that the characteristics of a habitat influences the species found there.  Through this activity, students will learn about white-tailed deer and their habitat requirements.  An animal’s habitat is the area that provides all of the life requirements for that animal (food, water, shelter/cover, and space).

  • Provide students with an overview of the different habitat types found in Pennsylvania. These include: young and mature forests, farm fields, meadows, wetlands, lakes and ponds, streams and rivers, cities, towns, urban parks, and suburban neighborhoods.  Point out that having a rich diversity of habitat types can result in a greater diversity of wildlife.

  • Discuss with your students why animals live where they do.  The habitats in which you find them provide everything in which the animal needs to survive. 

  • Working in small groups, have students research the habitat requirements of white-tailed deer.  They may wish to use field guides, library books, and the internet.

  • Have students compile what they have found in a format similar to the following: 

Habitat requirements of white-tailed deer:
Food:   Variety of leaves, forbs, herbs, and grasses in season; also eats waste grain, corn.  Acorns and nuts are favorite foods.  In winter, deer feed on buds, and twigs of trees and woody shrubs, preferring viburnum, maple, oak, and hemlock. 
Water:  No specific requirements for open water.
Cover/Shelter:  Uses woodlands, tall shrubs, forbs, and grasses for hiding and travel corridors.  Prefers brushy edges between fields and forests.  Uses conifer thickets and swamps during severe winters

Part 2: Field Trip: Habitat Suitability Survey 

  1. Introduce the concept of habitat suitability to students.  It is defined as the amount and type of food, water, cover, and space in an area.  This determines the areas suitability for a species.  Habitat suitability is affected by a number of items including; stage of succession, vertical structure, edge, interspersion, corridors, and fragmentation.  Review these terms with your students.

  2. Point out that a habitat suitable for one species may not be suitable for another.  When a habitat is changed the species of wildlife found in that area may change.

  3. Visit a specific habitat type where white-tailed deer live.  You may wish to provide the students with a map and aerial photograph of the areas being visited.

  4. Have students work in small groups to complete the “Habitat Evaluation Worksheet” on the area.

  5. Discuss the student’s findings.  Would the habitat studied make good deer habitat?  Why or why not?  Could you find suitable food sources?  Shelter/cover?  Describe the food sources and shelter/cover a deer could use in each area?  Is anything lacking?  Food?  Shelter/cover?  Space?  List ways the habitat could be improved for deer (provide food, shelter/cover, water, sites to raise young, etc.)?  What factors may be limiting deer populations?  What habitat component seems to be in the shortest supply.

Conclusion & Assessment (Evaluation)

  • Manipulative Task/Performance Assessment
    The students will be evaluated based upon their participation and accuracy in researching and compiling the habitat requirements of white-tailed deer and in completing the White-tailed Deer Habitat Evaluation Worksheet.

References: