Food Habits of Deer


Browse (leaves, stems, and buds of woody plants) is generally available all year and is a staple food for deer. An extensive review of food habits can be found in Hesselton and Hesselton (1982) and in Mackie et al. (1982). Plant species vary considerably in quality and regional availability, so a list is not presented here. Forbs are eaten in spring and summer when available. Fruits and nuts (especially acorns) are seasonally very important. Grasses are relatively unimportant. Agricultural crops, such as corn, soybeans, small grains, alfalfa, vegetables, and fruit trees, are readily eaten when available. Local food habits studies are available in most states–consult your local wildlife agency.

Nutrient requirements and the amount of food consumed vary with age of the animal, season, and the reproductive cycle. Daily dry matter consumption averages 2% to 4% of live body weight. For adult bucks, daily consumption is greatest in spring and averages 4.4 to 6.4 pounds (2.0 to 2.9 kg) of air-dry food per day. Consumption is about half that during winter. For does, greatest daily food consumption occurs in early fall, just prior to the breeding season.

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