Rare piebald deer spotted in Amherst 

  • This piebald deer was spotted on Market Hill Road in Amherst earlier this week.  COURTESY OF SIMONE STEMPER

For the Gazette
Friday, April 05, 2019

AMHERST – Simone Stemper was on her way to check up on a friend’s dog one morning last month when a group of deer crossed in front of her on Market Hill Road. 

As she turned around, she noticed a white deer standing in the dark forest and learned that it was a rare whitetail deer called a piebald.

“It was very exciting,” said Stemper, 32, of South Deerfield. “I have never seen a piebald animal in nature.”

Piebalds make up less than two percent of the population of whitetail deer, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. 

Stemper snapped a photo and uploaded it to Facebook to share with friends and described the deer as magical. One commenter called the deer Stemper’s Patronus, a reference to a kind a magic that takes the shape of an animal in Harry Potter lore. 

“It’s my Patronus! You are supposed to follow your Patronus!” Stemper joked.

David Stainbrook, deer and moose project leader at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters in Westborough, said that piebald deer are very rare.

“So it’s probably something that occurs in maybe 1 to 2 percent of the population,” he said. “I would say in an average year I get somewhere between two to eight reports of piebald deer.”

Piebald deer carry a recessive trait passed down by each of their parents. The gene creates an absence of pigmentation, which causes the deer to look white and spotted.

“There is a lot of variability as well,” Stainbrook said of how much white is shown on the animal. 

“It isn’t going to be half white, half brown. There could just be a white patch on a leg,” he said. 

The word “piebald” comes from the word pie, stemming from a magpie bird’s coloration. Piebaldism exists in many species of animals and differs from the traits carried by albinism.

In genetic terms, “it is not exactly a good thing to have in your population,” Stainbrook said. “We would treat it as any other deer as far as hunting. There are genetic ties to piebaldism which include bowing of the nose, overbite, short legs, scoliosis, short lower mandible, and internal organ deformities.

“The research into it shows it is more likely to occur in populations of deer where the genetics have had issues,” he said, but added, “It can occur just randomly in a population.”