Anyone 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 even 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.
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.
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.
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!
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