Nearly everybody knows that kids love candy, and it’s a good thing for them that moms know a little candy goes a long way and limit the sweets to “occasional-treat" status. Deer are a lot like kids in that respect. They relish human handouts such as bread and table foods -- the stuff is like candy to these critters. People food is yummy and worth hanging around for, but definitely not good for Bambi. Rather than coaxing deer to your backyard with delectable but unhealthy offerings, create a habitat rich with their natural foods and necessities. That will make these beautiful animals visit your yard but forget all about their cravings for candy.
Set a water source such as a plastic kiddie pool or a pedestal birdbath out in your backyard. Deer hang around longer in areas where water for drinking and occasional bathing is handy. Position the water source and all other deer offerings as far away from your dwelling as you can, so the animals won’t be alarmed or disturbed by everyday family activities. Keep your watering hole filled at all times throughout the year, but only about halfway during wet seasons to allow it to collect rainwater. Empty and refill the water source once or twice weekly to keep it fresh.
Put out a few mineral blocks, which are highly attractive to deer. Choose products that contain no more than 40 percent salt. While deer have a low sodium requirement, they do require minerals in their diets for healthy lactation and antler growth. Space the blocks about 20 feet apart to give multiple animals plenty of space so everyone gets a turn.
Open a sort of soup kitchen in your backyard to help supplement deer diets in the fall and winter when natural foods are typically scarce. Apple growers often retail bushels of very inexpensive “seconds” at their farm markets and roadside stands. Enlist the neighborhood kids to help -- offer a bounty for each bucket of acorns, apples or crabapples they pick up from their own yards. You can give deer corn at this time of year, but it can become cost-prohibitive in a hurry. Dump the offerings in 5-gallon pails. Scatter the pails around your backyard with plenty of space in between them to allow multiple animals to feed at the same time.
Pepper your property with the trees and shrubs that deer like best. Most of these plants produce at least one food source in addition to foliage. Deer feed on leaves, buds, twigs, flowers, berries, fruits and seeds. Preferred shrubs and trees include blackberry (Rubus spp.), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9; Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), hardy in zones 4 through 7; elderberry (Sambucus spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 11; flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), growing in zones 4 through 9; hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), hardy in zones 5 through 9; juniper (Juniperus spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 9; ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), hardy in zone 5; oak (Quercus spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 9; serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), hardy in zones 3 through 8; western red cedar (Thuja plicata), hardy in zones 5 through 9; wild rose (Rosa spp.), which grows in zones 4 through 8; and willow (Salix spp.), hardy in zones 3 through 10. Plant hardiness zones depend upon variety.
Plant plenty of flowering plants, which provide buds, blooms and foliage to deer during the summer. These animals readily devour many blooming plants and legumes, including alfalfa (Medicago sativa), hardy in USDA zones 1 through 11; aster (Aster spp.) and clover (Trifolium spp.), both hardy in zones 4 through 8; creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens), hardy in zones 4 through 10; croton (Croton spp.), hardy in zones 6 through 9; sunflower (Helianthus annus); Verbena (Verbena spp.), hardy in zones 7 through 11; violet (Viola sororia), hardy in zones 3 through 9; and wild strawberry (Fragaria), hardy in zones 2 through 11.
Install grasses that appeal most to deer in large areas of your property. Grasses offer feeding opportunities to the animals in early spring before other foods become available. Deer prefer bluegrass (Poa spp.), hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7; fescue (Festuca spp.), hardy in zones 2 through 7; oats (Avena fatua), hardy in zones 3 through 9; and wheat (Triticum aestivum), hardy in zones 3 through 8.
Add ferns to shady spots throughout your property. Varieties particularly attractive to deer include deer fern (Blechnum spicant), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, and sword fern (Polystichum munitum), hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Allow wild or lawn fungi to grow anywhere that it will in your backyard. Deer relish these tasty treats and readily devour any that they happen to come across.
Items you will need
- Plastic kiddie pool or pedestal birdbath
- Mineral blocks with less than 40 percent sodium
- 5-gallon pails
- Flowering plants
- Plant hardiness zones may vary depending upon species or variety.
- Consider chatting up your neighbors before investing major effort or expense in attracting deer to your backyard. Deer that visit you are likely to drop in on everyone else in the area as well. Because of the destructive nature of these animals, many people don’t like them as much as you do and don’t want them anywhere near their properties. Openly welcoming deer can lead to serious conflicts between you and the neighbors.
- There are only a few plant species these animal’s won’t eat, particularly if they’re hungry and natural wild foods are scarce. Deer carry harmful microorganisms such as Lyme disease, salmonella, brucellosis and tuberculosis, all of which can be transmitted to humans and domestic pets. They attract predators such as coyotes, bobcats, cougars and bears to the area and cause millions of dollars worth of property damage annually. These animals can be aggressive and are known to injure people and pets. Deer are responsible for hundreds of thousands of automotive collisions each year.
- University of California: California Oaks and Deer
- Vermont Agency of Natural Resources: Feeding Wild Deer
- Southern States: Attracting White-Tail Deer
- University of Missouri Extension: Nutritional Requirements of White-Tailed Deer in Missouri
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: Cutting Browse for Deer Feeding
- The Humane Society of the United States: A Wildlife-Friendly Garden
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife: Living With Wildlife -- Deer
- Whitetail Institute: Salt -- Friend and Foe for Whitetail
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Attracting Wildlife to Your Backyard
- University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service: Attracting Wildlife to Your Yard
- National Association of Realtors Houselogic: Deer Disease and Destruction: Top 5 Reasons to Keep Deer Out of Your Yard
- Science Kids: Animal Facts -- Fun Deer Facts for Kids
- Tree of Life: Did You Hear About the White Tailed Deer?
- Gabriola Rescue of Wildlife Society: Teaching Young Children About Wildlife
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: “Deer Talk” Activity
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