These herbivores have a diverse diet, and their eating habits depend on the season, their geographical location, and the availability of food. In this article, we will explore what deer eat, their favorite treats, and what they eat in the wild.
As deer farmers, we can answer your questions on what food is safe to feed to the deer.
Generally, when it comes to what plants do deer eat in the wild, deer are pretty much down for plant-based anything. And by "anything," I mean anything - just ask any gardener who's had their carefully cultivated plants reduced to nubs by these voracious herbivores. If you're a gardener, you know the struggle is real. Those 🦌🦌 are more than happy to nibble on your prize-winning roses, your fresh veggies, and pretty much anything else you've got growing. It's like they're thinking, "Oh, what's that? Looks tasty. nibble nibble Oh, and that too? nibble nibble Don't mind if I do."
Here are some of the main categories of food that deer normally eat:
Overall, deer are opportunistic eaters and will consume whatever plant-based foods are available to them depending on the season and their geographical location. A muntjac deer, for example, can eat up to 85 different types of plants [source].
According to Mississippi State University, white-tailed deer's salivary glands produce enzymes that help deactivate secondary plant compounds, (tannins), that disrupt digestion. These enzymes allow them to eat a quantity of acorns that would kill a cow.
In the summer, deer have a diverse range of food options available to them.
They typically feed on plants including clover, wildflowers, corn, soybeans, rye, alfalfa, berries, legumes and a whole bunch more. But you know what else they like to munch on? Apples, crab apples, plum bushes, and even some shrooms. Basically, if it's within reach, they'll probably give it a taste.
Food is significantly harder to find in winter, so deer become reliant on buds, saplings, woody plants, including evergreens, bark and dried leaves.
Photo by Jill Wellington
That's not much and wild deer do lose weight in winter, up to 30% of their body mass, that's why they try to gain as much as possible in warmer months.
One of the winter food sources for deer is Panicum virgatum. Photo: https://rockspringdesign.wordpress.com
If the herd is lucky to be in the area where unsuspecting farmers have planted their crops, they will also invite themselves to feast on agricultural crops like wheat, rye, or soybeans.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, based on thousands of observations from deer wintering areas in New York State, winter deer food favorites are:
One question if what deer can eat and another - what they prefer if they have a choice. What treats do deer like to eat?
Deer love to eat berries, acorns, nuts, corn, fruits like bananas, peaches and pears, carrots and bread. A lot of their favorite picks you'll find in the list below. All such yummies come with a warning though, while feeding tree branches or oats is totaly safe, basically anything deer wouldn't normally find in the woods - isn't safe in big quantities. Please see considerations about feeding deer.
Deer are mainly all about that veggie life, but every once in a while they go rogue and get a little meaty. I mean, we're talking super rare occasions here, usually when they're feeling pretty desperate for a snack. It's been known to happen that a deer might chow down on a bird, rodent, or even a fish - but that's not exactly their go-to meal. I guess you could say they're not really big fans of the whole "meat and greet" thing. We have a post dedicated to this question titled Are Deer Herbivores, Omnivores or Carnivores.
Yes, there is a noticeable difference in the diets of, for example, White-tailed deer, Fallow deer, and Mule deer.
White-tailed deer, Roe deer and Red deer: AI generated illustration
The diets of White-tailed deer, Fallow deer, and Mule deer overlap significantly, as all are herbivores consuming a variety of plant materials. The key differences arise from their preferred habitats and the resulting availability of food sources. White-tailed deer have the most varied diet due to their adaptability to different environments, including agricultural landscapes. Fallow deer, while also versatile, tend to consume more mast (acorns and beech mast) and less agricultural produce. Mule deer, adapted to more arid and mountainous regions, rely heavily on browse from shrubs and trees, with less emphasis on grasses compared to the other two species.
This comparison is based on general knowledge but specific dietary habits can vary widely within each species due to local habitat conditions, seasonal changes, and food availability.
If you've landed here searching for «what do deer like to eat», you're likely thinking of feeding deer in your backyard. In that case, keep in mind that depending on where you live it may be illegal for you to do that.
Winter is a challenging time for deer, and a nature's way of culling the weaker herd members. (( As heartbreaking as that may be, supplemental feeding of them presents its own set of problems and according to many reputable sources can do more harm than good. Such as:
Where a few deer are today 🦌🦌 tomorrow can be a hundred 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌 In deer world 'the word travels fast'. So more animals will burn their precious fat deposits hoping to come and dine at your sites. If they then arrive to an empty spot or there's only enough to feed half of them you may have made a bad situation worse;
Even if you succeed in saving more deer one winter through supplemental feeding, overpopulation of these animals does not benefit them in the end. Since you stop supplement feeding in spring, they're on their own but in bigger numbers than vegetation in the area can sustain. There will also be detrimental effect on the birds whose habitats deer eat away.
Photo by Snapwire
You can do this by creating and maintaining good quality deer habitat and improving food resources that will actually benefit all wildlife.
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You can search through this following list of foods to see if deer might enjoy it [to be continued]:
🦌: "Oh deer god, please send us some!"
Berries of all kinds are deers favorite food. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes , watermelon - all are highly appreciated by these gourmets. Berries are packed with minerals and vitamins, acids and sugar and so are perfectly fitted as deer feed. Not that you'd want to share a lot with them, would you? Still, it appears that berries are deer's favorite treat. Absent that, deers' sweet tooth is leading them to fruits. Pears, peaches, apples, bananas.
Some 🦌 apparently do, but should they - that's another question.
Even 1 or 2 year old deer have been spotted sneaking in and drinking milk from the utter of a doe who's feeding her fawn. These are grown animals who have long been weaned. Clearly, they must be perfectly capable to still digest it.
Cow's milk is somewhat similar but goat's milk is more so. With cheese, deer might additionally be attracted to salt content inside.
Still, Junkie spat it out: "No thanks, I'm on a diet".
🦌: "What's in it?"
Deer are herbivores, best accustomed to eating plant based food, while chiken are omnivores, capable of eating both plant and animal products. What is your chicken feed made of? Read the label and if it's not all vegan, it's likely not a good idea to feed deer that. They might eat it, but will it agree with their digestive system - no one can tell...
Deer: "Would sell our souls for it!"
Deer love maize, but it presents danger when consumed in big quantities by animals not accustomed to it.
This is one of the few things deer tend to avoid.
🦌: "You gotta be kidding me!"
Seriously, dogs are omnivores (evolved from carnivores), even the cheapest dog food contains (hopefully, for dogs sake) some meat. You shouldn't try and feed herbivores meat products.
Deer: "We're not fans!"
This is one of the few things deer tend to avoid. But our deer have on a rare occasion been spotted eating toasts with some garlic rubbed into them. So it's not a deer repellent, in case you were wondering. Might protect you against vampires, but not your garden from deer.
🦌: "Just put them down and step away!"
You'll make them very happy if you share your melon, even scraps with deer.
Deer: "We go nuts over them!"
Deer will gorge on a variety of nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds and peanuts. Raw or fried, salted or unsalted. These mighty nutcrackers have been spotted destroying shelled walnuts that have fallen from the tree.
🦌: "Hell, no!"
However, a few days later the onion tends to disappear. So they might nibble at it once it's wilted, when they've got nothing better to peck at.
Deer: "Any day!"
Adore these fruits, will consume whole.
Yep. It's like being in the Garden of Eden for them.
They don't even spit out the bones.
Deer: "We'll have large fries and soda, please!"
In truth, these animals will likely eat potato. It does not appear to be their favorite, but eventually it gets cleaned up.
Last modified 15 February 2024 at 15:06
Published 02 October 2021
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