Wild deer are a common visitor in many yards and parks, and many people feel the urge to feed these forest creatures, especially once the winter weather has blown in. However, it’s important to realize that supplementing a deer’s diet with food it is not accustomed to eating can cause harm and even death. Products labeled as deer food, such as “deer corn,” are not safe and should never be left out at any time, in any amount.
The deer’s digestive track has evolved to handle a coarse diet of buds, leaves, acorns, and twigs. Deer love to feed on mature conifer trees and shrubs, especially the scale-like leaves of White Cedar, which is a plant common to home landscaping. White Pine needles are also quite appetizing to wild deer. In the spring, Sugar and Red Maple buds, and Yellow Birch and Dogwood buds make a great deer meal. In the autumn, oak acorns provide a good source of nutrition to prepare for winter. Deer will also eat apples, clover, soybean, and winter wheat if available.
When the preceding foods are unavailable, deer will also eat Aspen and Ash buds, Jack Pine needles, and White Birch and Witch-Hazel, though they avoid doing so if possible. During especially bad conditions, Spruce, Red Pine, and Balsam needles, as well as Beech tree buds will be eaten, though they are low in nutritional value and deer treat them as a last resort.
Instead of feeding wild deer what they aren’t accustomed to eating, you can help to increase their access to foods that they are accustomed to eating. This starts by supporting forest management and habitat conservation in your area. Contact the Department of Fish and Wildlife or other conservation organizations in your state to learn more about what you can do to help ensure the wild deer in your area are well-fed.