Just 30 miles north of Key West, the elusive Key Deer roams freely on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. At least they seem elusive if you’re just passing through on A1A.
Simply veering off the beaten path a little, you might find a few Key Deer hiding from the sun under brush or feeding off available grasses.
I remember my first Key Deer sighting taking my breath away. I just couldn’t believe how small they were.
A full grown adult stands just over 3 feet tall at their shoulders weighing in between 65-80 pounds. Roughly the size of a big dog!
Big Pine Key
Between mile markers 29 to 33 on Highway 1, Big Pine Key fiercely controls the speed limit to protect the Key Deer.
With good reason, as approximately 100 Key Deer are killed each year due to automobiles. These free roaming animals are known to cross the busy roads in search of food and new living quarters.
As an endangered species with only a population of about 900, one hundred deaths a year by cars is frightening. Cars are the only “predator” of the fully grown deer.
The first stop in looking for Key Deer is to make a quick visit to the National Key Deer Refuge office, located in the Winn Dixie shopping plaza. Address: 179 Key Deer Blvd., Big Pine Key, FL 33043
The small office space showcases a few interesting exhibits and you can pick up a map of the refuge areas.
The Blue Hole
Leaving the refuge office, we stopped at the Blue Hole, which is an abandoned limestone rock quarry filled by rain water. At one time, the rock was mined to build roads as well as the famous Flagler’s railroad.
The Blue Hole is also located on Deer Key Blvd (approximately 2.8 miles from the refuge office). Watch for the small parking lot on the left side of the road. It’s a great stop to stretch and enjoy the nature of the Florida Keys.
Nice walking trails, plenty of wild birds and we gazed at an alligator lounging as close as he could get to the small viewing pier. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any deer.
Interesting Key Deer Facts
The National Key Deer Refuge website is a great source for information on Key Deer and here are a few of the facts they list which I found quite interesting:
- They are a sub-species of the North American white-tailed deer
- Fawns are typically born in late spring and into the summer months
- Listed as endangered in 1967 when only a few dozen deer were alive
- The average life expectancy for a female is 6 1/2 years, while the males live about 3 years.
Where to See Key Deer
Taking a hint from a local man at the Blue Hole, we drove a few streets into the surrounding neighborhood in search of Key Deer, being careful not to disturb the locals as we enjoyed these little wonders.
Just when we thought we wouldn’t get to see one, we spotted three foraging along the neighborhood roads. Then looking closer, we noticed several escaping the mid-afternoon sun lying under low palm trees.
As we headed further back into the neighborhood, these little treasures were crossing streets, grazing in yards and generally going about their day. Paying absolutely no attention to the humans or cars going by.
Once you spot one of these little guys your heart will be filled with warmth. We stopped to enjoy a few spectacular moments watching little families interact.
Keeping Wild Animals Wild
Remember not to feed the Key Deer. They are wild protected animals and the human interactions (especially feeding) is also contributing to the deaths of these wondrous creatures.
The Key Deer who are all too comfortable with human interaction will continue to seek out humans with yummy goodies. Of course, this causes the deer to meander into areas where higher car traffic is more likely.
Once you’ve had your fill of searching for tiny deer, head over to one of our favorite local watering holes for humans. The No Name Pub is number two on our list of favorite Florida Keys Bars and they have great pizza too.
Often times we are so focused on getting to the end of A1A for our vacation in Key West that we forget to stop and enjoy the little wonders of the Florida Keys.
Slow down (literally and figuratively) when you reach Big Pine Key and take a quick adventure into heart of the National Key Deer Refuge to see the adorable Florida Key Deer.
It isn’t often we get the chance to observe an endangered species in the wild.
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