- During winter, deer grow a thicker coat of fur to keep warm. This coat is made up of hollow hairs that trap air and provide insulation.
- In order to conserve energy during the winter months, deer may become less active and reduce their movement. They may also gather in groups to share body heat.
- Winter can be a challenging time for deer to find food, as much of their usual vegetation is not available. As a result, they may resort to eating bark from trees, buds, and twigs, and may even forage in residential areas for food.
Deer are adorable animals you can find throughout North and South America. They adapt to diverse environments and climates differently. Each type of deer is unique. There are 43 species of deer. Many of them live in regions where winters are cold and brutal.
Interestingly, not all deer migrate in the winter, like other animals. Those that don’t rely on special features and abilities to stay warm and survive. In this blog, we are going to dive into where deer go in the winter and how they survive the cold.
How Do Deer Survive The Winter?
Each deer species survives winter differently. For example, some white-tailed deer migrate during winter, but they don’t always move far. In fact, they look for “deer yards” to rest and eat. These “deer yards” are outdoor spaces that can cover dozens of acres. The yards offer protection from the snow and can fit multiple deer.
Deer also trade their cool summer coats for thicker winter fur in fall. The fur is thicker, longer, and darker. Not only is it warmer, but the fur also repels water. Since the fur is dark, it absorbs sunlight and traps heat which protects them from the cold and snow. In the fall, a deer’s body retains more fat in layers which acts as a food and energy source when deer hunker down in intense weather.
What is the Average Lifespan of a Deer?
Most male deer will live up to about the average age of six years old. Some may live shorter, some longer. Females typically live a few years longer than bucks. In fact, the record white-tailed deer was a doe that was discovered in Georgia. It is believed to have lived a staggering 22 years.
Human hunting is by far the greatest reason for mortality rates among deer and deer species. Deer won’t mate for life and will live and travel separately except when it’s time to reproduce. Bucks will then travel alongside other males for most of the year and then rejoin females during the mating season.
While humans are generally the main cause of mortality in deer species, another challenge for this animal is diseases. Deers are prom to CWD which is a wasting disease and an epizootic hemorrhagic disease or otherwise known as EHD.
Common Types of Deer
Before we dive more into how these wonderful animals survive winter, we should learn about the common types. Listed below are five common deer and some fun facts about each.
White-tailed deer are very common in North America except for the Southwest. These beautiful deer have light tan or brown coats in the summer and dark grayish-brown coats in the winter. They also have unique white markings underneath their tail and on their throat, eyes, and stomach. White-tailed deer fawns are red with white markings, which helps them stay safe. They are also herbivores and interestingly have four chambers within one stomach.
Red deer are large animals. Adult males weigh up to 440 pounds. Red deer are common throughout Europe, Iran, and Western Asia. They are also ruminants, hooved grazing animals with four stomach chambers. During fall, they grow thick coats of reddish-brown fur, which helps them survive cold winters. When they shed during spring and summer, they run themselves against rough trees to get rid of excess fur.
Siberian Musk Deer (Vampire Deer)
Siberian musk deer are small and more commonly known as vampire deer. They are distributed throughout Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, the Korean peninsula, and Siberia. These deer live in mountain forests and use their small bodies to expertly hide from predators. As their name suggests, they have very long tusks instead of antlers. Sadly, they are poached and their population is declining. Siberian musk deer travel at night and only migrate short distances.
Reindeer aren’t just flying animals in Christmas stories. They actually exist and belong to the genus Rangifer. Interestingly, wild reindeer are called caribou, while domesticated ones are reindeer. They thrive in cold and mountainous regions in Siberia, North America, the Artic, and Europe. These deer travel in large herds, the largest containing between 400,000 and 1,000,000 reindeer in Siberia. Unlike other deer species, female reindeer also grow antlers.
South Andean Deer
Technically, South Andean deer are endangered, so they aren’t common, but they are an interesting deer species. They are native to the Andes. These small deer have short and stocky bodies built for rough and rocky terrain. Their coats are greyish brown with white undersides and necks. Male South Andean deer have a black ‘face mask’ marking and shed their antlers every year. In Argentina, their biggest predator is the cougar.
What Do Deer Eat in the Winter?
Deer slightly change their diets during winter. Less food sources are available as they die out due to the cold. Deers living in cold and snowy regions consume more berries and nuts. They find whatever is available including twigs, grasses, berries, and bulbs. During winter, it’s tempting to want to feed wild deer, but experts recommend against it. Feeding them human food or food outside of their diet can give them diarrhea, which leads to dehydration. Severe dehydration is deadly.
What Do You Do If You See a Deer in Winter?
Deer are more afraid of you than you are afraid of them. If you spot them during winter, you have nothing to worry about. They are not aggressive toward humans and are more likely to run away and camouflage in the woods. If the deer appears injured or needs help, contact your local Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator. If you get involved, you can accidentally make the situation worse without the proper training.
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- University of New Hampshire, Available here: https://extension.unh.edu/resource/more-harm-good-why-you-shouldnt-feed-deer