Please Don't Feed the Deer!

Don't Feed DeerPlease Don’t Feed the Deer!

Right around this time of year, the Animal Control Officers and Public Works get lots of calls about the number of deer in and around the City and requests for pickups of dead deer from the roadways, alley, and yards. We actually see small herds of deer using the crosswalk at the library on Evers to go from the Community Center grounds to the park in the early morning or late evenings. We have one set of citizens that would like us to remove the deer from the city limits and one set of citizens that want (and do) feed and water the deer, which makes them fatter than they should be. We would appreciate it if citizens would not feed or water the deer and treat them as they truly are – wild animals, capable of finding their own food and water sources.

One of the reasons our deer population is so fat is that we have a large group of well-meaning citizens who will go to the day old bread store and buy bread, rolls, buns, and tortillas, and then they throw them in their yard or in Raymond Rimkus Park for the deer to eat. Because of this diet, we have picked up dead deer that weigh over 140 pounds! One of the signs of a healthy deer (or dog or cat) is the ability to clearly see the outline of their ribs. Lots of our deer don’t even have a suggestion of a rib!

Bread and tortillas are empty calories for deer and can actually contribute to malnutrition and disease in a deer population. If you’re offering day old tortillas, bread, and pastries, please stop. Tortillas, both flour and corn, have low to no nutritional value for a deer, and one of the ingredients is lard – a substance that deer do not eat in the wild. Though a variety of birds and mammals will eat these handouts, they just provide gut-stuffing empty calories.

Another danger is that when you put food out for deer, it’s impossible to control what other wildlife may drop in for quick bite and/or how often certain animals will visit. You may eventually realize that the blend of breads, tortillas, corn, seeds, and dried fruit that you like to put out every day also attracts squirrels, opossums, skunks, and raccoons. You might even start to recognize “regulars” who make stopping by your home a normal part of their daily routine. When these wild animals come into contact with dogs, cat, and humans, zoonotic disease may be spread and/or the dog, cat or human could be injured or killed.

Do not use corn or other fermentable carbohydrates as a primary deer food, as deer are routinely killed this way by people trying to help.  Deer are browsers and have adapted to eating a wide variety of food sources, but their efficient stomachs require time to adapt to a new food source. A hungry deer that has not eaten corn recently can die within a day if it comes across a large pile of corn that it devours (bloat and acidosis).  Corn is often used as a food supplement, but is low in protein and nutritional value. Corn is also high in starch and so should not be used as a primary food source.

In a perfect world, no one would feed deer. Period. That’s the advice from Jerry Feaser, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. And Dr. Anne Ballmann, veterinarian and wildlife disease specialist for the National Wildlife Health Center, agrees. Furthermore, when we feed deer (anything, not just corn), we cause them to burn extra calories to travel farther than they normally would. And they feed in large groups. Deer will congregate in neighborhoods and then eat the roses, trees, bushes, vegetable gardens, and other highly prized plantings in people’s yards.

Dr. Ballmann warns that when deer feed in large groups competing for a limited food supply, they come in close contact and easily transmit diseases and parasites. And if feeding stations are near busy roads, more deer are hit and killed by traffic.

Feaser suggests that rather than feed deer, land owners should plant native trees and shrubs that provide food (nuts and fruits) and cover (evergreens). Remember - the deer managed to feed themselves long before we started offering them snacks, and they’ll continue to fend for themselves just fine without our help!