Biologist warns feeding deer in winter can cause more harm than good

  • A deer stand on a hill newly covered in snow at the Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Deer have changed their activity and larger groups of them can be seen as snow depths have increased around the state, yet that doesn’t mean people should feed them, biologist Dan Bergeron said.

Deer have several adaptations to survive severe winters, Bergeron said, and therefore don’t require supplemental food. Their winter coats keep them warm; they store large amounts of body fat to use as energy reserves; they will voluntarily reduce their food intake and daily activity to conserve energy; and they migrate to specialized habitats known as deer yards.

Bergeron said although most people who feed deer are well intentioned, they don’t realize there are a number of unintended negative consequences. He said giving them the wrong type of food or at the wrong time can lead to possible sickness or even death. That’s what happened in 2015, when 12 deer were found dead in South Hampton from being improperly fed.

He said deer depend on microorganisms in their stomach to aid in digestion. As a deer’s diet naturally and gradually changes with the seasons, so do the microorganisms that are required to help digest those foods. The gradual change can take several weeks.

Bergeron said other negative consequences associated with winter feeding of deer can include an increased likelihood of vehicle collisions, over-browsing of local vegetation, increased risk of predation, and an increased risk of disease transmission.