How Do Deer Stay Warm in the Winter?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: September 14, 2021
Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: September 14, 2021


When temperatures drop in the winter, most people stay indoors to keep warm. If you live in an area where it gets really cold you may wrap yourself in a warm blanket and sip some tea or hot chocolate. While you have a warm place to stay indoors, wild animals have to find ways to stay warm outdoors. Deer are just one example. Have you ever wondered how deer stay warm in the winter when it gets bitterly cold and windy? Do they hibernate like bears, snakes, and skunks? Where do they sleep in the winter?

Get ready to find out how deer stay warm over the cold weather months along with other interesting facts about these majestic animals.

How Do Deer Stay Warm in the Winter?

These hoofed creatures are hardy animals able to endure cold weather. In fact, biologists have discovered many different ways that deer stay warm in the winter.

In the autumn, white-tailed deer and other deer species consume an increased amount of food to add an extra layer of fat to their body. This is a behavior of many animals living in areas where it gets really cold in the winter. Along with eating more food, these mammals begin to eat different types of foods.

In the warm weather months, deer eat a diet of grass, stems, leaves, twigs, and other plant life. These foods are low in calories and give deer the energy they need to thrive in the spring and summer. When the fall season arrives, deer add berries and nuts to the menu. Why? Because berries and nuts are high-calorie foods that can help a deer quickly add to the layer of fat they need to survive the cold. They have to prepare their bodies for a season when food is not so easy to find.

In order to prepare for the winter months, in the fall, deer begin eating nuts and berries to add a layer of fat to their bodies.

Staying Warm with a New Coat

A special coat also helps deer to stay warm in the wintertime. In the fall season, this animal sheds the coat it has had all spring and summer. It begins to grow a new, much thicker coat in preparation for winter weather.

The design of this mammal’s winter coat has a lot to do with how it stays warm and dry. The top layer of its coat is made up of hollow guard hairs. When snow or rain hits the guard hairs in a deer’s coat, the moisture just slides off. This keeps the coat from becoming soaked with moisture. That’s a good thing especially when temperatures are dropping fast!

The hollow nature of this animal’s guard hairs also serves the purpose of trapping heat near its body. If a deer were a house, its hollow guard hairs would be the insulation in its walls. Some scientists that spend time observing these animals have reported seeing thin layers of snow on the backs of several deer. The snow is not melting due to its coat of hollow guard hairs. The animals simply shake off the snow!

Its special coat absorbs more sunlight on winter days. The sunlight filters down and adds to the warmth of the animal’s body.

Moving Less to Stay Warm

As with many other types of animals, the behavior of deer changes in the winter months. In the warm spring and summer months, you may see deer running around, playing, or eating in a field. Their physical activity slows down a lot in the winter. A deer becomes less active causing its metabolism to slow down. In fact, it decreases its activity level by fifty percent. When an animal’s metabolism slows down, it doesn’t require as much food as it would with a normally functioning metabolism. This is helpful especially when food is scarce in the wintertime.

Deer are more active in warmer months than they are in colder months.

Finding Warm Shelter

Finding appropriate shelter is another way that deer stay warm in the winter. They search for areas where the cold winds are blocked and where they have shelter from above. This could be in a conifer forest or at the edge of a field.

Oftentimes, deer stand beneath tall pine trees that have lots of needles to block falling snow and rain. Or, they may gather on a hill with a line of evergreen trees blocking the wind. They’re likely to choose an area that receives many hours of sunlight during the day. This type of place is sometimes called a deer yard.

A deer yard may contain dozens or more deer. They are all there to get protection from the cold and share the body heat of the other deer in a herd. In addition, there is likely to be a large food source in the vicinity of the deer yard. This is another reason why deer gather there!

Deer are social animals so it’s not surprising to see them gathered in a herd during the winter or any season. Forming a herd provides them with some protection against wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and other predators. When a predator approaches the herd, the deer begin to stampede. In this rush out of the area, a wolf or other predator may not be able to grab one of the deer from the herd.

Next Up: Labrador vs Golden Retriever: 9 Key Differences Explained

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do deer hibernate in the winter?

No. This is a common misconception about these animals. Though they don’t go into full hibernation, they certainly slow down their activity for the cold weather season. On particularly cold days, deer stay in one place and move very little to conserve their energy and heat.

A deer that hibernates or goes to sleep in the wintertime would be at great risk of being killed by a predator. A bear, on the other hand, is a predator and is not putting itself at risk when it goes into hibernation for months.

Do deer sleep standing up?

The answer: Sometimes. Like horses and sheep, deer can sleep while they are standing up. Think about it. Deer must be aware of their surroundings at all times to spot potential predators. So, the ability to sleep standing up means they don’t have to get up before running away from an approaching predator.

They have also been known to lie down to sleep. They use leaves and soft vegetation as their bedding. Oftentimes, they position themselves against a log or a tree trunk for extra protection. But just because they are on the ground doesn’t mean they aren’t alert to danger. Before lying down, a deer looks for an escape route and checks the air for scents indicating a nearby predator. A deer can get up off the ground very quickly if necessary. It’s no wonder that a newborn fawn takes just ten minutes to stand up and start walking around.

Do deer dig through the snow to find food?

Yes. However, deer look for twigs, berries, and other food items that are above the snow. A deer must burn a lot of energy when it digs through the snow, so it tries to avoid doing that. Of course, this animal will dig for food in the snow before it lets itself starve.

An older deer or one that is ill may not have the energy or strength to dig through the snow for food. This is why many older ones die over harsh winters.

Are deer more likely to be killed by a predator in the winter?

Unfortunately, yes. With no leaves or other vegetation on most trees or bushes, it’s easy for a predator to spot a deer. Large male deer, or bucks, stand out very clearly against the white background of snow. Alternatively, in the spring and summer, a deer is better able to hide.

Also, deer aren’t able to run or jump as quickly in deep snow. This can lead to its capture by a predator. Plus, a deer’s metabolism slows down in the winter, so it doesn’t pick up speed and run as fast as it does in the warm weather months. These are dangerous and sometimes deadly disadvantages in winter.

What is a deer yard?

A deer yard is a place where deer gather in the wintertime to find shelter from the cold winds and frigid temperatures. Deer yards are essential especially in places where winters are extremely cold and snowy. Sometimes access to a deer yard with a food source nearby can be the difference between a deer surviving the winter or not making it through to spring.

Sometimes deer return to a deer yard they used the previous winter. It depends on whether the environment still provides protection and food. Fallen trees and a lack of growth in the spring and summer can mean it’s not a good place for deer to gather for protection. So, the herd moves on to find a more inviting place to shelter.