What Do Deer Eat?

Deer are the foragers of forest and farm and I’m constantly reminded of this as I’m driving to work past farms and over back roads. I usually have to stop for deer crossing the road or slow down as I approach the feeding deer by the roadside. As I drive by I notice them dining on berries and leaves but then I realize that these herbivores will feast upon many, many types of flora and fungi.

Whitetail deer love a leisure graze. They’ll eat all types of plants and leaves, nuts, grass, twigs, and more! Whenever you spot a deer on the side of the road or in the brush, you can bet it’s on its daily food foraging route.

Nocturnal Grazers
In the wee hours of the morning, around or near the wooded areas where I live, I can always spot feeding deer. Deer are mostly nocturnal grazers that will browse around or close by their resting areas during the day and into the afternoon. They not only eat plants but they also eat fungi! But one point worth remembering is the deer’s diet changes at different times during the year.

Winter Food Woes
It’s wintertime and food is becoming increasingly more difficult to locate. But for the deer, their food source is what’s readily accessible. Deer will seek out and eat different foods like buds, shoots, and bark and their favorite snack, cedar branches, whenever they can find them. But this type of food is hardly enough to sustain deer as their metabolism winds down and becomes low. White cedar would be one exception except for the fact that a deer would have to devour 3 to 6 pounds of white cedar daily for a whopping 100 days. But now we’re not talking about one deer but the number of deer in the herd! One difficult task! Enter another winter menu item called “Old Mans Beard.” This grey lichen, somewhat like Spanish Moss, is usually found on dead or dying spruce and balsam trees. Part lichen and part fungus, old mans beard is brimming with nutrition that is capable of sustaining deer during these harsh winter months!

Farmland and Cropland Scavenging
Deer do not like plucking food from standing stalks when scavenging in agricultural fields (farmland or cropland). Instead, whitetail deer will search atop the snow or on the ground for soybeans, corn, or cowpeas that may have settled there. Deer will scavenge for hours on these harvested fields!

The Warm Months
Spring and summer will have deer feeding on small plants, grass, and other greens. But come Fall and their appetites will gravitate toward brush and acorns. Deer are known to feed on more than 600 types of vegetation!

What a Deer Wants
Deer love a large variety of food but then there are those foods they really want but are not available all of the time. These are pecans, hickory nuts, acorns of all varieties, and fruit such as apples (slightly frosted, please), blackberries, and persimmons. Many foods appeal to deer and their appetites are large. The average deer may consume 7 lbs. of food or more per day! Burp! Time for some bicarbonate of soda!

By Tom Matteo


Wisconsin Huntington Preserve
Grand View Outdoors
Buck Manager

About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He has written hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and now writes about animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife, Tina, and their beloved cockapoo, Angel.