It is no secret that deer have a hugely varied diet, and they enjoy snacking on many different plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees. But do deer eat mushrooms, and can you feed mushrooms to deer?
Mushrooms are not a foodstuff to be taken lightly, and most of us rely on experts to tell us which ones are safe to eat. Let’s find out what deer think of mushrooms, and whether they enjoy snacking on fungi!
Inside This Guide:
Do Deer Eat Mushrooms?
Deer have a remarkably varied diet and will eat a huge range of different plants, shrubs, herbs, and trees, as well as mushrooms and lichens.
So, do deer eat mushrooms? Yes! They appear to like the taste of mushrooms and will seek out their favorite mushroom varieties as they forage through woodland.
Do Deer Eat White Mushrooms?
White mushrooms are the type most commonly sold for human consumption and are also known as button mushrooms, common mushrooms, or table mushrooms.
We normally eat them at their immature stage, when they are round and pure white in color. When fully mature, they open out to reveal a brown underside – at this stage, they are sold as portobello mushrooms.
The scientific name for white mushrooms is Agaricus bisporus, and as well as being one of the most popular varieties of cultivated mushrooms, they can also be found growing in the wild. White mushrooms are not a particularly common variety of wild mushroom and tend to occur mostly on grassland after periods of heavy rain.
Deer will eat white mushrooms, and they appear to enjoy the flavor of this nutritious fungi. However, white mushrooms usually grow in grassland, whereas deer prefer to browse for food in woodland areas.
Do Deer Eat Poisonous Mushrooms?
The unusual thing about deer is that they appear to instinctively know which mushrooms are safe to eat. They can also eat some mushroom varieties that are toxic to humans! So, just because you’ve seen a deer eat a mushroom, this doesn’t mean it is safe for you to eat as well!
A study by a team of scientists in Quebec found 580 mushroom species that were consumed by adult deer, which is a remarkable amount!
Deer have a strong sense of smell that can pick out intricate aromas. This enables them to tell the difference between edible and toxic mushrooms, helping them to pick out the best ones to eat.
This sense of smell is also vital to help deer forage for mushrooms at times of the year when other food sources are scarce. During the winter months, fresh foliage is hard to find, and mushrooms can be a useful source of nutrition to fill this gap.
Can Deer Eat Morel Mushrooms?
Some species of deer will seek out and eat morel mushrooms, whilst others will only eat them when other food is in short supply.
Deer that enjoy eating morel mushrooms include moose, mule deer, and elks. These species of deer live in cooler climates with long winter months, which may explain why they are more accustomed to eating morels.
White-tailed deer and other warm-climate species are not as reliant on morel mushrooms for nutrition and do not tend to eat them.
The interesting thing about morel mushrooms is that they are mildly toxic to humans, and we cannot eat them raw. Deer do not seem to have this problem, and will snack away happily on a patch of morels without any issues!
Can You Feed Deer Mushrooms?
Depending on the time of year and availability of other foodstuffs, mushrooms can be a beneficial addition to the diet of a deer. However, not all mushrooms are safe for deer to eat, so caution is definitely required!
Most mushrooms are a good source of highly digestible protein, making them more energy-dense than grasses and shrubs. They contain high levels of water, as well as essential nutrients and vitamins.
Because of this, many deer will actively seek out and consume non-toxic mushrooms, particularly when fresh plant growth is scarce. They tend to come across mushrooms as they browse woodland in search of seeds and fruits.
Things to Consider About Feeding Deer
So, does this mean that feeding mushrooms to deer is a good idea?
Well, the first thing to remember is that in some regions and states, feeding deer is an illegal activity! While we love these majestic creatures, remember to stay within the boundaries of the law when creating a deer-friendly garden.
Most deer will find all the mushrooms they need in the wild, but you could consider leaving a patch of edible mushrooms in your yard for any passing visitors. Most mushrooms are surprisingly difficult to grow and very fussy about their living conditions, but you can help them along by providing plenty of partially-rotted woodchip mulch.
Alternatively, invest in inoculated logs. You can get logs with specific types of mushroom spores, such as shitake, golden oyster, or lion’s mane. You’ll need to keep them in a cool damp nook in your yard, and will reward you with a crop of mushrooms that you and your local friendly deer population will both enjoy!
Deer Resistant Mushrooms
Mushrooms don’t often feature as part of a garden or backyard plan, and with good reason. Although we’re great admirers of fungi, trying to control when or where they will grow is an almost impossible task! Mushrooms are a good indicator that your soil health is thriving, but you’re more likely to find that they pop up spontaneously despite any efforts to cultivate them.
If you’re lucky enough to have an area of woodland, you will find many different types of mushrooms growing throughout the cooler seasons. But are any of these mushrooms resistant to deer, or will they eat them all?
Deer can and will eat most mushrooms that are edible to humans, and can also safely consume some varieties that are toxic. So, any attempt at growing edible mushrooms will need to be in an area fenced off from deer, unless you are growing them specifically for deer to enjoy.
Mushrooms that are resistant to deer tend to have a stronger smell and flavor, and unfortunately, you will most likely find that these species are toxic to both humans and deer, as well as your household pets.
Deliberately cultivating any type of toxic mushroom in your yard or garden is a big risk, and not something we would recommend.
Our best advice would be to admire the mushrooms that do spontaneously appear in your garden, and if you want to eat wild mushrooms then seek the advice of an experienced foraging expert first.