Barbour's Pond

Barbour's Pond
Barbour's Pond - November 11, 2013

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why feeding deer is unhealthy for them

Many people think of feeding deer like feeding the birds. But there are some critical differences that make feeding deer unhealthy for the deer population, for plants near the feed site and for passing motorists.

Problems start because feed sites congregate deer into unnaturally high densities. These high deer densities can spread diseases among deer. Feeding can cause aggression in the herd, wasting deer's vital energy reserves and leading to injury or death; as well as using up critical fat reserves as deer expend energy traveling to and from the feed site. Feeding can deny access to food for subordinate deer and fawns, and can encourage over-browsing of local vegetation and ornamental plants. It also increases the likelihood of deer-vehicle collisions.

Deer must store body fat for the winter. The amount of body fat a deer has when it enters the winter directly determines if it will survive until spring. Deer accumulate body fat by increasing the amount of food they eat in September and October, when high-quality foods, such as acorns and other nuts, are abundant. By November, most deer have accumulated all the fat they will need to survive the winter. Research has also shown that large, dominant adult deer fill their bellies first at feeding sites, which means that smaller and weaker individuals, including the vulnerable fawns, will have wasted valuable energy traveling to the feeding site, where they may get little feed. Over time, feeding sites attract more and more deer competing for the same food supplies, which can lead to over-browsing and degradation of the natural habitat around a feeding site, as well as wreaking havoc on homeowners’ ornamental plantings.

Wildlife biologists also worry that deer feeding might help spread Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which affects deer and elk and is always fatal. Although biologists don’t know exactly how this disease spreads, they believe its transmission requires close contact between animals. When humans put out food for deer, they create a situation where an unnaturally high number of deer become concentrated in a small area.

If you care about deer, leave them alone -- let them be wild, and find natural foods and appropriate winter shelter on their own. The bottom line is, please don't feed the deer, and please discourage your neighbors, friends and relatives from engaging in this harmful activity.

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