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Yes, finicky deer

‘Feeding deer these simple, basic foods is just like feeding your children macaroni and cheese’

June 7, 2019
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Finicky deer? All across the USA, suburbanites and townspeople who have never before given deer a moment's thought are being confronted with hungry cervids.

"These feral deer are everywhere you look," remarked Doug "Jinxy" Mulroon, a homeowner in the township of Two Trees, Michigan. "Literally herds of them. I'm not exaggerating."

Ida Manugian, of Schuylerkill (pronounced "Shoolerkeel"), New York, agrees. "What bothers me," she said, "is that so many of these deer appear to be homeless."

"Yes. Where do they sleep at night?" interjected her neighbor, Beatrix "Trixie" Delmonico. "Sometimes I just lie awake and wonder. My husband tells me I'm nuts, but I worry they're not getting enough to eat."

If you, too, are noticing more deer in your area, it's not your imagination. Deer numbers are on the upswing.

Unrestricted hunting, as well as rampant deforestation by lumber companies who clear cut vast forest reserves, eliminated 95 percent of the deer in the United States in the 1800s. Hard to believe, but deer were wiped out in Vermont during that time.

Gentlemen hunters visiting the Adirondack Mountain Reserve in the 19th Century used hounds to run deer down to the river, where they might easily slaughter a dozen or more at a time for sport. The Keene Valley Library Archive has some excellent photographs from this period showing the hunters and their dogs with local guides, trophies proudly displayed.

New York State wildlife management did away with such practices, and introduced legislation in the first half of the 20th century aimed at increasing the deer population. Needless to say, the program has been successful.Some hardliners, like Jinxy Mulroon, say "Send the deer back!" But where? And how? Like flood water, they just keep coming.

Others, like Trixie and Ida, want to provide for the deer, but worry that their available natural fodder won't be enough. Then what will they eat?

According to "Deer Overabundance," a document recently released by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, "Open areas such as residential developments and agricultural fields are interspersed with forested areas, providing plentiful edge habitat as well as a variety of nutritious crops and ornamental plantings. This supplements the natural food available to deer."

Yes, deer can be finicky! Most, however, will start out happily on tulips and hosta in the spring, and over time can be encouraged to try new foods.

If you have cedar trees that have somehow survived the ubiquitous North Country road salt, those will do fine for browse. Fruit and nut trees also make good fodder.

You will not have to trick the deer into trying pansies, violas, hydrangeas or any kind of lily, including day lilies. And don't worry about the thorns on your roses. Deer are apparently willing to overlook them as they devour both leaves and flowers.

Feeding deer these simple, basic foods is just like feeding your children macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly and McDonald's Chicken McNuggets. You can rest easy, knowing that their tummies will be full. Later on, they will develop their palate, acquiring a taste for more exotic fare. Over time, deer will learn to eat almost anything in the garden, including tomatoes. So far I haven't heard of any that eat daffodils.

But no, seriously. Is there a way to discourage deer from decimating your garden? According to the aforementioned NYSDEC report, "Deer normally find the most to eat in edges, or transition zones between forest and more open habitat types." This could be your garden, or else, if you have enough land, you could allow part of it to return to nature and become deer browse.

Oddly enough, whitetailed deer, as well as bear, raccoons, rabbits and goats, love to eat poison ivy, which does not hurt them. Deer also love blackberries, sumac-not the poison kind-and many other kinds of wild trees, shrubs and plants. Tall grass and woody, shrubby vegetation provide cover for fawns. I know a family that feeds deer corn and apples. This may be illegal, but it seems to keep the critters out of their flower and vegetable gardens.

In urban and suburban areas, most deer deaths are caused, not by predators, whether human or otherwise, but by run-ins with vehicles. I don't have any solution for this problem; my Honda will bear witness.

Have a good week.



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