Do deer like treats? Of course, they do!

deer bird seed IMG_3127© Maria de BruynAnyone who has lived in proximity to white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) know that they have a great appetite for all types of vegetation, including garden flowers that people plant in their yards. This has been a cause of strife between humans and the deer (at least, from the humans’ point of view), even though I and other people have found that deer repellants – both home-made and store-bought – work really well to keep deer from eating plants we wish to keep.

I also have a 5-foot fence around my vegetable garden. In theory, the deer could jump this but the trick is to make the garden long and narrow since the deer calculate how much space they have to land on the other side of the fence. If it looks like the space is too small, they won’t try to jump eveIMG_5431© Maria de Bruynn if they see and smell delicious veggies inside – I know this is true as I’ve watched them figuratively “lick their lips” outside my garden but never attempt to get into it.

The deer’s four-chambered stomach enables it to eat a variety of food. In spring and summer, they prefer green plants, including grasses; in the autumn, they go for corn, acorns and other nuts. In the winter-time, deer eat twigs and buds of trees. They also eat fruit, such as the berries on privet trees, lichens and other fungi.

Stip at apple treeStip and privet IMG_1648© Maria de Bruyn

To get to the privet berries, they need to reach the tree branches and their good sense of balance comes in handy. The does do it often in my back yard and the fawns watch them carefully so they can try it, too. Surprisingly, the fawns can stand on their hind legs pretty well when they are only a few months old.

Nezhoni and apple tree 3©Maria de BruynBuck and privet IMG_5243© Maria de Bruyn

Besides privet berries, they like grape leaves (which can be high when the grapevines climb up the privet) and apples. The big bucks will also have a go at it but I don’t see them lifting their bulky bodies up often.

The deer also enjoy treats, just as we may like sweets and birds have a fondness for suet. Bird seed is one treat they like. If the deer are very hungry, they can lick up all the bird seed put out for the ground feeders, but when they are feeling well fed, they will just have a little and leave seed for the birds (and squirrels). The deer’s fondness for bird seed can be strong; if you don’t hang your feeders high enough, they can clean out a feeder in a short time.

emptying bird feeder at night©Maria de Bruynwhite-tailed deer MdB 3 buck

My biggest surprise concerning a deer treat came from Schatje, my “dear deer” friend of five years. One summer, I noted that the hummingbird feeder was emptying quickly and I just thought the hummers were very thirsty. Then one day, I looked outside to see Schatje enjoying a sweet drink. It turned out she was extremely fond of nectar and eventually I had to hang the feeder higher so she wouldn’t drink all the contents a couple times a day!

white-tailed  deer Schatje 1 ©Maria de Bruyn signedSchatje nectar IMG_1727©Maria de Bruyn

This winter has been especially cold and the local deer family have had to rely on their winter diet of fungi, leaves and twigs a lot. Though they likely are not anticipating spring, I’m sure they will be glad when it gets here, just like me!

Next week: squirrel treats

6 thoughts on “Do deer like treats? Of course, they do!

  1. That was Schatje (Dutch for dear) – she was the only one to do that. Unfortunately, she died in December 2012. I have plans to make a photo book about her and her family as she was very special. Once I saw her doing that, I realized why the nectar feeders were being emptied so fast – I do have hummers but they never drank so much so quickly! 🙂


    • I think deer like very many plants, which is why I regularly spray any plants and flowers in my yard that I want to keep. As development keeps narrowing down any natural habitat in which they can live, they have to browse the same places over and over and that unfortunately does tend to get rid of understory plants. So if they eat seed that I have put out for the groundfeeding birds like white-throated sparrows and towhees, it is ok with me. I spend more on bird seed than I would otherwise but I don’t eat out often so it balances out. 🙂

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  2. I love hearing about others feeling the need to feed the deer … my boyfriend owns 2000 acres and currently plants 20 acres of assorted food plots around the property … it’s such a treat to be able to deed then as well as see them enjoy the feast … we’ve sat in the blinds many a time just watching them move about, to me they are magical … thank you for providing them a safe haven Pam …


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