Driving through town during the holidays is always a joyful time. Colorful, twinkling lights adorn houses and trees. Garland and ribbons hang on porch railings. Inflatable Santas and reindeer are tethered in front yards.
And while the lights are great for lifting human spirits, they are a downer for our wildlife neighbors.
They represent a potential serious hazard to animals.
It ranges from an ugly annoyance to mule deer bucks when they find themselves mistakenly sporting red and green lights on their antlers to a threat when they restrict movement, eating or even the vision of an animal, leaving it vulnerable to oncoming traffic, predators and more.
It’s not just a holiday season phenomenon. Deer get stuck in human contraptions year-round including: tomato cages, hammocks, soccer nets and fences, just to name a few.
The holidays are the worst. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that when we start decorating for holidays, bucks are starting the rut — mating season. During this time, bucks rub their antlers against trees and bushes to get ready to fight other bucks. When a buck rubs his antlers on a decorated bush, strings of holiday lights get unwound and stuck on the antlers.
The result? The buck runs off with your Christmas decorations, leaving you wondering if the neighborhood juvenile delinquent struck again.
Sometimes the string of lights, or garland, is just on the antlers. If this is the case, we will let him be and let him show off his holiday spirit. Bucks will drop their antlers over the next couple of months and the string of lights will not be harmful staying on until then.
If the buck has a long string of lights trailing behind, but it is still mobile, we will let it be unless the lights get caught on something. We will not tranquilize animals that are still very mobile. It is very stressful, and sometimes deadly, for the animal to be tranquilized. So we only intervene if we absolutely have to.
When do we intervene? A perfect example was last year when a buck in the Broadmoor neighborhood had Christmas lights wrapped around his muzzle and even inside its mouth, preventing it from eating normally. This was a life-threating issue.
We will also come untangle a deer, if it is unable to move freely. For example, if the entangled lights are still attached to a post, prevent the buck from moving locations.
If you see a deer wrapped in decorations, please give us a call. It may be tempting to try to help the buck yourself, but they are wild animals and are dangerous, especially during the rut and stressed out by unwanted decor.
You can help us out by taking a picture of the deer, from a safe distance. We are often able to tell if we need to intervene from the pictures you send us.
Here are some other tips you can follow to prevent wildlife from getting tangled in your holiday decorations:
- Wrap decorations as tightly as possible around posts and trees.
- If you wrap lights around trees, place them higher than six feet off the ground and tightly secure the ends.
- Do not drape lights over bushes or trees.
- Tightly secure any decorations that are attached to a house or building.
- When not in use, bring inside: hammocks, soccer/volleyball nets, swings, tomato cages and other items deer commonly get stuck in.
Cassidy English is a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.