Normally deer are pretty much just brown. They might have black tails or white tails, and fawns have white spots, but deer of any specific variety all look pretty much the same as one another with a whole lot of brown. Pretty much anywhere deer are found there are exceptions, and some people are lucky enough to spot one.
Less than 2% of deer have excessive white, which for some reason is called piebald. In horse colors piebald refers to black and white patches, whereas pinto is any color and white so it would make more sense to call them pinto deer rather than piebald. Skewbald is any color other than black and white so that would also make more sense than calling brown and white deer piebald. Paint is another horse color term, but that one is a breed closely associated with quarter horses. All other horses with white and colored patches are pintos whether they are piebald or skewbald. Apparently the term piebald is used more loosely with other animals. In piebald deer the skin under the colored patches is black, but under the white it is pink. Some sources say they are extremely rare with estimates at anywhere from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 30.000 or even less, which is a whole lot less than 2%.
Albino deer are even more rare having no pigment at all. These have white hides and pink eyes, noses, and hooves. Estimates are this occurs in about 1 out of 100,000. If a white deer has normal dark eyes and hooves it is leucistic, which while still quite a rare occurrence is not nearly as rare as albino.
The piebald color is a genetic condition, which unfortunately can include issues other than color. Some of these deer have shorter legs than normal, roman noses, overbites, curved spines, or crooked legs. They can also have internal problems. Sadly some are born too deformed to survive. Those that survive can live to breeding age and can produce normal or piebald fawns.
The Olympic Peninsula, and Clallam County specifically seem to have more than the usual number of piebald deer. Dungeness Park, which is most well-known for the Dungeness Spit certainly has its share. Part of the park is the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge, which mainly consists of the 5+ mile spit where people can take a long beach hike to a lighthouse. The other part of the park is the Dungeness Recreation Area, a county park with over 200 acres of forest, meadows, and bluffs with a campground and trails. I have personally seen 5 of the piebald deer there.
Two are siblings with a plain brown mother. As yearlings they still hang with mom and are nearly her size. I’ve seen these two on and off in the park and nearby yards since they were born.
Once in early spring I saw another one in a seasonal swampy area of the park. Due to the time of year it had to be a yearling, but that one was quite a lot smaller than the two brown adults it was with. By its size it appeared either a very late fall baby or born way too early that spring, but odds are it was probably just stunted in its growth as can happen with the piebald deer. The brown coat on this one was a significantly lighter shade of brown than the other two yearlings.
Another one which just appeared to me as a big white spot on a hillside was confirmed to be an adult buck with a lot of white by a lady with binoculars. Perhaps the father of the yearlings. In a different part of the park there was an adult standing alone on the trail one day that had just a couple small white spots surrounded by a wide ring of tan fur much lighter than the rest of its brown coat. It had no antlers, but it was late winter when bucks may not have any so that one could have been either a buck or doe. I would guess buck because that trail runs past a small school and some kids there seemed familiar with that particular deer and called it Toby. Unfortunately it left the trail and ran off to the school before I could get a photo of it. While driving by I saw a pair of entirely very light tan deer in a yard near the park a couple times too, but I don’t know if deer of a far lighter shade of brown than normal have any relation to the piebald deer. Even though some live there a trip to the park is nowhere near a guarantee of spotting a piebald deer. The park is full of ordinary brown deer which are the ones even frequent visitors to the park see most often.
Historically many cultures did not hunt white deer, some considering them as ghosts or messengers from the spirit world. Others thought they were sacred or supernatural, or just that it was bad luck to shoot one. In today’s world some places protect them by keeping them off-limits to hunters, but many places do not. Hunting is not allowed at Dungeness Park nor in Olympic National Park so the ones there are safe from human hunters.
Indeed, all the deer I have ever encountered have been brown no more, no less. Maybe someday I’ll get to see one in person displaying these unique coats. Very interesting post.
Thanks. I never knew anything other than ordinary brown deer and the rare albino existed until I saw the two fawns. After spotting them of course I had to look pinto deer up on the internet and found information there including that they are actually called piebald deer even though pinto would make more sense. I’ve seen a leucistic alligator at a wildlife park and an albino turtle at a reptile zoo, but the deer were the only unusually colored animals I’d seen in the wild until just recently when I came across an albino banana slug on a picnic table in Olympic National Park.