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Deer are famed for their hugely varied diets, browsing various plant materials throughout the year. But what do deer eat in summer, and does their diet change according to the seasons? 

Depending on the local climate and weather conditions, the summer can be a time of food abundance for deer or a period where sustenance is scarce. Food availability can also vary widely from year to year, with some crops faring better than others.

Luckily for deer, they have many options available to them when it comes to foraging for something for dinner! 

What Do Deer Eat In Summer? 

White-tailed deer buck with velvet antlers eating leaves in spring

The diet of deer is hugely varied and considerably different from most other herbivores. Their uniquely adapted gastrointestinal system can digest foods many other animals cannot, such as acorns and certain berries.

However, the downside is that deer need more energy-dense food sources than other grazing animals and will become malnourished if grass is the only food source. 

The food intake of deer is split into several different categories: 

  • Browse: The leaves of woody plants, bushes, shrubs, and trees. 
  • Forbs: Herbaceous broad-leaved plants. 
  • Mast: Soft and hard seeds and berries. 

They will also eat grasses, mushrooms, and lichens, but these make up a much smaller proportion of the diet. 

In the summer months, around four-fifths of a deer’s diet will consist of browse and forbs – the leaves of trees, bushes, and herbs. The remainder of their food intake will comprise soft mast such as berries. Mast is the preferred food source of deer as it is energy-dense, but the amount consumed will depend on availability.  

Should Deer Be Fed In Summer? 

White tail doe deer at deer feeder

Whether deer should be supplemented with additional food is a very controversial topic.

In some areas, wild deer are considered a pest that can ravage agricultural crops, but in others, they are encouraged by hunters or nature conservationists. The issue also arises that deer numbers are exploding in some areas, leading to a scarcity of food availability. 

This has led to many local authorities banning the practice of feeding deer; in others, supplemental feeding of deer is strongly discouraged. Research has shown that, if done incorrectly, providing additional food for wild deer may be detrimental to the deer population. 

Regarding food availability in the summer, this can be a period of feast or famine for deer, depending on the weather conditions. A warm spring with plenty of rain will produce an abundance of forage for deer, while cold or dry conditions may lead to food scarcity. 

What Do Deer Do In the Summer? 

White tail deer fawn in the grass

Female whitetail deer will be busy protecting and raising their young during the summer. While female whitetail deer tend to live in herds, it is not uncommon for them to become a bit more solitary during the summer months. 

A female deer requires a diet high in protein and fiber to produce milk for her fawn, and they will often leave their offspring hidden in the long grass while they scour the area for food. So if you stumble across a fawn, it should be left well alone – its mother will be nearby! 

Male whitetail deer will either live alone or as a group of bachelors. They generally live together quite harmoniously during the summer months, but as fall approaches, they will start to fight to gain dominance, ready for the mating season. 

To adapt to the weather during the summer, deer will often change their foraging territory. Increased heat and humidity cause them to seek cooler spots like shaded valleys and waterside habitats. On the hottest days, they rarely leave a coveted cool spot, only going out searching for food and water at night. 

The most abundant food sources for wild deer in the summer are densely forested areas. These are cooler than open farmland and provide deer with foliage and berries to feast on. However, forest habitat evolves rapidly, so deer often move to different locations from one year to the next to find the younger, bushy trees they prefer. 

Do Deer Eat More Food In the Winter Or Summer? 

Deer are remarkable creatures with fascinating physiological adaptations that allow them to thrive in the harshest environments. One of these is their ability to survive on very little food during winter, which can be as little as half what a deer eats in the summer. 

Studies have shown that during the winter months, some species of deer will reduce the size of their digestive tract and extract nutrients more efficiently, enabling them to survive the colder months despite lower food availability. 

One fascinating aspect of this study was that the deer did not increase their food intake even when it was readily available! When given access to unlimited food rations, they ate half as much per day as their food consumption during summer. 

This is thought to be because food is more readily available in the summer, and deer do not need to make the most of every calorie they consume. Food intake and digestion are rapid but not as efficient in the summer, whereas in the winter, every mouthful counts! 

What Should I Feed Deer In the Summer? 

Feeding deer in the summer is rarely necessary, and in some regions, it may even be illegal. But if you’ve got a few friendly deer that visit your yard for food all year round, it is essential to remember that their dietary needs change according to the seasons. 

During the summer, female deer provide milk for their fawns, while males grow antlers ready for the mating season. This means they benefit from a diet high in protein, typically from various types of weeds, clover, and alfalfa. 

While corn is seen as a good source of energy for deer during the cooler winter months, it is not sufficient to meet the additional protein needs of deer in the summer. Corn can still be given as a supplemental food source, but only alongside an additional source of protein such as soybeans, rye, or brassica plants. 

In the wild, soft fruits also comprise a more significant part of a deer’s food intake during summer. They enjoy eating ground-bearing fruits like strawberries and raspberries and fruits from larger trees, including sumac, maple, aspen, ash, and hemlock.

If they were to wander into a fruit orchard, apples, pears, and plums would all be added to the menu. 

So, if you want to give any visiting deer an occasional treat, leave a few of these fruits lying around for them to discover – a fruity dessert bar for deer! 

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