The piebald deer often seen in the Southern Shores woods near Hickory Trail was reported dead yesterday by a couple who saw the animal’s remains on the side of a canal while they were out boating.

The Beacon received word of the rare animal’s death from Rod McCaughey, president of the Southern Shores Civic Assn., who was notified by the couple.

Mr. McCaughey sent us a photograph of the deer lying in shallow water on the side of a canal reportedly near the Dick White Bridge that crosses East Dogwood Trail. Visible in the photograph next to her remains is a broken wooden walkway.

We have chosen not to publish this photograph. Instead, we share a photo that we took in September 2019 of a piebald fawn and her (or his) mother in front of a house on East Dogwood Trail.

Since this sighting, we have believed that Southern Shores may have two piebald deer residents, but we have been unable to confirm that fact. Because of their genetic makeup, piebald deer have difficulty surviving until adulthood.

Piebaldism—which is characterized by white patches or spots on the animal’s coat—is a genetic abnormality that is present in less than 2 percent of the whitetail deer population. The skin underneath the patches lacks pigmentation or coloration, but the animal has pigmentation wherever the brown hair appears.

The word piebald combines “pie,” which is short for magpie, a black-and-white bird, with “bald,” which can mean marked with white, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Besides an adjective for coloring, piebald can be used to describe a composition of incongruous parts.

Piebaldism is often confused with albinism, which is the congenital absence of any pigmentation. Albino deer, which are exclusively white, have pink eyes, pink noses, and pink-hued hooves, whereas piebald deer have brown eyes, brown noses, and black hooves.

Unfortunately, the gene that causes piebaldism also regulates other traits and is associated with skeletal or internal deformities. Piebald deer are likely to have bowed snouts, curved spines (scoliosis), short legs, overbites, and short lower mandibles, as well as what online wildlife resources call “internal organ deformities.”

We are very saddened by the loss of our neighborhood unicorn, who charmed everyone who came upon her and often stopped traffic. She grazed in our yard–but we had not seen her in some time.

We hope the deer’s death was natural and that homeowners who have seen her remains—which we could not locate yesterday—have called Town Hall, the SSVFD, or a wildlife organization to inquire about their removal.  

See https://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/what-is-a-piebald-deer/ for just one description of a piebald deer.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/16/20

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