State Animal: White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

photo of deer

White-tailed deer are frequently found in wooded or brushy areas and cleared areas near woody habitats. This type of habitat includes roadways, fields, pastures, and woodland clearings. Deer are generally active at night or during the hours around dawn and dusk. White-tailed deer eat a wide variety of plant food. They browse tender shoots, leaves, and twigs of shrubs and trees. They will also eat many common agricultural and garden crops.

Today the white-tailed deer is a familiar sight in Illinois, but deer almost became extinct in the state during the late 1800s, when market hunting and expansion of agricultural lands led to the elimination of large herds in the early 1900s. According to records, the last native deer was seen in southern Illinois in 1912.

Deer and People

During the 1930s intensive restocking of the deer populations began. At first, populations grew very slowly because of factors such as poaching, attacks by dogs, mowing of habitat, and resistance by humans to the restocking efforts. However, by the 1970s, deer were once again present in all counties of the state. In many areas they have become abundant, in some cases becoming a problem. Deer were an important part of the diet and life of Native Americans in Illinois, too.

The Symbol

Although other animals appear in the state symbols, the white-tailed deer was selected as the official state animal of Illinois. The state animal was selected by a vote of Illinois schoolchildren in 1980. Candidates were nominated by the General Assembly and the Illinois State Museum. The children selected the White-tailed Deer, and a bill, effective January 1, 1982, was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor James R. Thompson. The white-tailed deer was selected over these other mammals: raccoon, fox squirrel, opossum, red fox, and thirteen-lined ground squirrel.


Hoffmeister, D.F. 1989, Mammals of Illinois, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 348pp., ISBN 0-252-01515-0
Natureworks educational Web site for children in grades 3-6.