Large herds of whitetail deer that have grazed the hillside across from the Big Y on Route 80 are starting to break up into smaller groups and recede away from traffic into the woods.
Before the recent snowmelt, though, large groups of deer were congregating on the hillside – and out into Route 80 traffic – because that specific piece of land had less snowpack than where the deer were coming from, according to Howard Kilpatrick, wildlife biologist for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Kilpatrick said deer choose the path of least resistance – no matter where it leads them – in order to find food. The wildlife biologist said deer typically travel in groups of two to five, but with this winter’s unusually high snow totals, herds have increased in number.
“As the snow melts, they break up,” Kilpatrick said. It becomes easier to travel and deer move out to browse in other areas, he said. Kilpatrick said the whitetails will remain in the area, though, albeit in smaller groups, and farther from the road.
Motorists will be relieved to hear that.
“At one point we were having five or six accidents a day,” Lt. David D’Ancicco said of car-deer collisions occurring a couple weeks ago. Although reported accidents have decreased, the problem has not yet completely resolved itself, D’Ancicco said. “Hopefully, with the warm weather they’ll go back further,” he said.
After the handful of collisions a couple weeks back, the police contacted the Department of Transportation and made them aware of the traffic headache, D’Ancicco said. Route 80 is a state highway and so it is up to the state to post any signs alerting drivers of potential deer in the road.
The DOT decided to put up signs with deer symbols on them, D’Ancicco said. Currently, there are four signs within a quarter-mile stretch on Route 80; all are within view of the Big Y. D’Ancicco said there was no talk of temporarily lowering the speed limit. “People are tuned in to going a certain speed,” he said. It would take too long for motorists to acclimate to a change, he added.
Instead, to boost cautious driving, D’Ancicco said over the past couple weeks, around the hours of dawn and dusk – when most of the collisions are happening – a squad car has been stationed on Route 80 with its overhead lights on.
Whitetail deer are the only native deer in Connecticut, Kilpatrick said. Although the large herds will disperse in the coming weeks, the reddish to grayish American deer do not migrate, but shift between areas of their homeland, he said.