What Do Deer Eat



What Do Deer Eat?

Many people think that deer can eat just about any type of vegetation that grows in the forest, but the truth is, if you ask the question, “What do deer eat?,” the answer is going to be that deer are very selective, which is why many times during a year, there is a real shortage of food for deer. Deer also eat many kinds of food that are not terribly nutritious just because it is the only food available throughout certain seasons.

Just like people, deer have foods that they prefer. Unlike many humans, the foods that deer prefer are always nutritious. They will eat these types of food whenever available. When the most nutritious foods are unavailable, deer will eat foods that are on a kind of second-tier list, less nutritious but still good for them. When all food is scarce, they will eat food that keeps them alive but contains very little nutrition. This is very often the case in winter.

The foods that answer the question, “What do deer eat,” can be divided into the following categories: woody plants, forbs, nut crops, wild grasses, fruits, and crops.

Woody plants are exactly what you might think they are--trees, vines and shrubs. Woody trees give deer a basic diet of twigs and leaves to eat. They are an answer to the question, “what do deer eat,” but they are on the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of nutritious foods. Shrubs and vines fare little better with a variety of leaves and buds for the deer to eat. In winter, mountainous areas often have nothing for deer to eat except twigs from trees, which is the reason deer often die for lack of food when there is a heavy snow cover. But, because they are needed so badly by the deer, woody plants are very important for deer sustenance.

Unless you studied plants, ecology, or wildlife management in college, you probably have never heard of the word, forbs. Forbs are all of the herbaceous plants, which are not grasses. They are essentially ground cover, and this category covers all of the plants with broad leaves we call weeds, as well as the more popular plants, wildflowers. For deer, these are very, very nutritious types of vegetation. If you live in a rural area, you may even have had deer come into your yard to eat flowers you have planted. These also fall under the category of forbs.

Nut crops are an excellent food for deer and those eaten in the fall can actually help deer get through the winter in a healthier condition. The problem with nut crops is that they are often scarce with trees producing different numbers of nuts and acorns from year to year. They are never a food supply deer can count on to sustain them.

Wild grasses also provide good nutrition for deer. As humans encroach more and more into the areas where deer and other wildlife live, many of the wild grasses that used to grow in pastures are unavailable. This is because of human development and the amount of pastureland that gets taken over for housing and malls. In other cases, pastures are sometimes taken over and replanted with foods, such as Bermuda grass, which are not beneficial to deer.

The final two sources of food for deer are fruits and other cultivated crops. Both are very important to deer survival. Fruits give the deer a higher energy level, just as they do with humans. Both fruits and cultivated crops, such as planted grasses, grains, flowers and vegetables are available mostly in the late summer and fall when deer are starting to try to fatten up to make it through the long winter.