This nighttime trail camera photo shows two deer in close proximity in the woods. But what is that on the deer on the left's head? Credit: Contributed photo

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OK, so the trail camera photo of the two nighttime deer is fuzzy.

But that didn’t stop you from venturing some interesting guesses as to what might be going on with the deer on the left-hand side of the image.

Some folks showed a sense of humor in identifying the deer on the left as a unicorn. One reader introduced the thought that the apparent appendage on the deer’s head might be an optical illusion.

Others said what we’re seeing is caused by the position of the deer’s right ear and an antler, or that there might be another deer standing behind it. All are possible explanations.

However, a significant number of you came to the same conclusion. And even though it’s difficult to explain, it appears as though an owl is hitching a ride on the deer’s head.

Admittedly, it probably would take some photo editing software to provide us with a clearer and more definitive image, but the whole mystery is part of the fun.

“I’ve never heard of a bird perching on a deer’s head, and at nighttime, the number of candidate bird species would be low,” said Nathan Bieber, deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “If ever you find something strange, though, you may be assured that stranger things have happened.”

Without predisposing him to any ideas, we also asked our favorite bird expert to offer his thoughts on what he sees in the photo.

“It does look like a small owl, which could only be a northern saw-whet owl,” said Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Bob Duchesne, who writes the weekly “Good Birding” column.

“If it’s anything more than a coincidence, I would suspect that it is watching to see if the deer frighten any mice into moving,” Duchesne said of the owl’s potential motivation for sitting on the deer’s head. “I’ve never heard of such a thing, but that doesn’t stop me from making wild guesses.”

Birds are known to hitch a ride on the backs of animals in other parts of the world. For example, according to the National Wildlife Federation, the red-billed oxpecker camps out on the backs of Cape buffalo to eat ticks that have infested the large beasts.

In India, black myna birds gather on the backs of antelope to pluck fleas off their hides.

But this is Maine.

So, does the photo show a saw-whet owl perched on the head of a white-tailed deer? The world may never know.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...