What Do Deer Eat in the Winter?

During the winter, deer survive on woody plants like oak, willow and dogwood trees, winter crops like wheat and clover, and winter fruits. Deer prepare for winter by eating acorns, which are high in carbohydrates, during the fall.

When eating woody plants, deer forage for twigs, leaves and buds. While common and hardy, these types of plants offer little nutritional value for deer.

Deer primarily eat nuts, berries, shrubs, twigs and leaves. Nuts, berries and shrubs are crucial for deer. Deer populations can be estimated by examining plants for signs of their presence. Because they are preferential eaters, signs that they have started foraging on woody plants can often indicate that food sources are running low.

As the year transitions from summer to fall, their preferences change. The plants lose their chlorophyll and become less appetizing, causing the deer to seek dropped acorns, beechnuts and hickory nuts.

Despite their limited diets, deer should not be fed during the winter by humans. Deer transition slowly between diets and sometimes cannot switch from a diet of nuts and twigs to grains and hay because they are unable to digest the nutrients. During the winter, deer compensate for the decreased calorie intake by relying heavily on stored fat. Healthy deer can lose up to 20 percent of their body fat safely.