What to Feed Deer in Backyard? +Why & Why Not

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You can stop feeling overwhelmed by graciousness and beauty when you see wild animals strolling around your house. Deer are among the many animals we love watching up close – especially in a patio or garden.

But as much as it is an undeniably memorable experience, it doesn’t happen often. How can you make such epiphany happen more consistently, then?

We have an answer for that: learn what to feed deer in backyard and give them a reason to get close, and more importantly, come back every day.

By learning the food preferences and other essential secrets about deer, you’ll keep them coming. Once they get accustomed to your house, you may even be able to get close to them. But don’t rush – learn what we have to tell you first! Take a look!

Brief Introduction to Deer and Their Habits

Deer come from all around the world. There are hundreds of these animal species that you can find anywhere from the forests of China to the forests of France, Germany, Spain, Russia, and many other countries. Even in Africa, you can find some deer species.

But you’re likely reading from North America. In that case, you’re likely looking for information about the white-tailed deer, the most common you’ll find. Another common species is the mule deer, mainly located in the West part of the US while white-tailed primarily in the Eastern side.

Either way, they have similar habits and behavior. Regardless of the species in your area, you will find pertinent information below.

How Long do Deer Live?

It depends on the species, their size, and the area they’re living in. However, they generally live up to 10 years. Unlucky individuals may live between 2 to 5 years, dying from either disease or hunting.

Where Do Deer Live Exactly?

They love forests and prairies. If your house has a backyard that resembles places like these, you’re likely to have an easier time bringing them around. Having said that, you can find deer practically anywhere, from deserts to agricultural areas, as they’re highly adaptable animals.

Why Are Deer Everywhere?

They’re among the most adaptable species of mammals in the world. However, deer have a unique advantage over other animals: they like almost the same places humans do.

For that reason, deer can live close to humans without causing trouble. That’s why we’re so likely to befriend them, especially when they live close to suburban areas.

How many Deer are There in the US?

Because we humans started chopping down forests and covering areas where predators like wolves, bears, and mountain lions used to live on, deer had an easier reproducing. Eventually, the deer population started to grow exponentially. Nowadays, there are about 30 million deer only in the US.

Are Deer at Risk of Extinction?

After reading that there are over 30 million deer in North America alone, there shouldn’t be any doubt this species is not at risk of extinction. However, deer sometimes die massively in some places when winter arrives.

This happens because we humans took their food sources and shelter areas for the winter, which eventually ends up in deaths from hunger and cold.  

Why You Should Feed Deer

Now that you have a better idea of how deer behave and how they survive let’s explain why feeding them is such an excellent idea – even in your backyard. Here are 5 reasons to consider:

The Experience

Seeing a wild animal from up close is always beautiful, regardless of the animal. Deer are easily among them, especially considering how timid they are. Bringing them around your home can liberate a lot of stress, make you smile, and change your mood entirely.

Respect for Wildlife

Whether for you alone, your family, and even children in the neighborhood – having wildlife close gives a window for learning more about nature. This can induce a deeper sense of respect for animals as well as wild specimens in general.

Learning Their Habits

When you want to learn from someone, you get close to them. You do the same if you’re going to learn about animals. Like increasing your respect for them, you can understand how they behave and why they are the way they are by just looking at them. This could help control their populations if necessary.

Help them Survive

One primary reason to feed deer in your backyard is to help them survive. Even though deer seem to be thriving, they may not be. Especially in winter, when they’re often struck by climate issues and lack of food, you could give them exactly what they need by just filling some feeders at home.

Bring Other Animals Around

Deer are the major food source for many predators like bears, wolves, mountain lions, and even coyotes. If you’d like to see some of these up close as well, bringing deer around your backyard could be a great idea. Just be careful. These predators may also predate on your pets.

Why You Shouldn’t Feed Deer

Now, there are many reasons to give deer the chance to get close to your home. But this could also be dangerous and improper for many reasons. Here are some of them:

They Leave a Mess

Deer are wild animals. They have no respect for the vegetation in your yard or garden. If left unattended and unprotected, they may quickly eat away all your flower plants, ornamentals, and even crops. Sure enough, they may also leave their residues behind.

They Have Diseases

One of the worst diseases in the world is Lyme disease. And one of the primary sources is the deer tick. Letting deer get close to home can bring ticks around, which could host this disease. Other diseases include mange, giardiasis, e. Coli, and even plague. They may infect not only humans but also pets.

Wild Animal Conflict

Believe it or not, deer can be somewhat dangerous directly. If they felt threatened, they may attack. This is especially true for mothers protecting their babies or males in mating season, as they get more aggressive. Deer can be dangerous to pets and children as well.

Property Damage

Have you ever seen videos of deer running through doors and windows? It happens a lot more often than you think. Unlike cats and dogs who can identify glass and places to go through, deer have no idea. They can easily make the cutest of cottages a total disaster by trying to get through or around it.


Similarly, deer don’t understand much about vehicles. They’re the culprits behind millions of car accidents yearly. By bringing them to an urban or suburban area, you’re not risking only yourself and people around who also drive vehicles. 

What Does a Deer Normally Eat?

Now that you have a better idea of whether feeding deer is a great idea or not, let’s give you a heads-up on the food they usually eat. Here are a few foods deer consume in the wild:

Pretty much you can say that deer eat practically anything edible. Especially in places and seasons where food is scarce, they’ll try to eat anything.

In urban areas, deer are known for feeding on garbage cans and bags. In some cases, they may even get inside homes searching for food (which can be dangerous for several obvious reasons).

What Type of Plants Does a Deer Like?

So, what to feed deer in backyard? If they eat practically anything, why don’t I just give them whatever I find? There are a few reasons why you shouldn’t. But first, let’s explain what foods you should give them instead:

Trees for Deer

Green twigs, bark, and leaves from many trees make for a substantially healthy part of their diet. You can find that deer love species like:

  • Apple
  • Cedar
  • Crabapple
  • Dogwood
  • Hawthorn
  • Oaks
  • Poison Ivy
  • Willow
  • Yew

While some of these species are dangerous to humans, deer’s digestive systems have no problem with them. You can feed them these with no issue.

Bushes and Shrubs for Deer

Hungry deer will also feed on shrubs and small bushy plants like:

  • Aucuba
  • Arborvitae
  • Blueberry
  • Azalea
  • Euonymus
  • Holly
  • Rhododendron
  • Roses
  • Tulips

Blooming plants are desirable to deer. You can bring them close with these. Otherwise, you may want to protect them instead.

Herbs & Small Plants

Plants that don’t necessarily produce flowers or many fruits are also part of a deer diet and may offer excellent choices for your backyard, like:

You can pretty much plant any plant humans eat and expect deer to eat them as well. If they’re starving, they may empty out a garden in a day.

What is the Best Food for Deer?

Now, we’ve gone over some foods that make for good options. But what about the best foods? What will they benefit more from? In that case, here are some options to consider:


Young trees and shrubs with nutrient-rich leaves and stems make for nutritious meals deer love.  


Most people known them as mast – they make for a high-quality addition to deer’s diet. Acorns, small fruits like blueberries, and nuts are highly nutritious and help deer keep their carb reserves filled.

Natural Cereals

Anything with oats, wheat, and rye is decent food for deer. The high-carb and fiber on these foods are super-healthy for deer. Some deer will prefer other food, though, as cereals can be hard to digest. 


Anything from hulled peas to soybeans and even black-eyed peas makes for excellent deer food. The high-protein and carb availability keep deer healthy for long. Interestingly, they’re easy to digest.

Fruits & Vegetables

From apples to cherries, carrots, pears, plums, mulberries, grapes, and blackberries – deer will eat them all without thinking twice. You can even give them bananas and watermelon in small quantities.

Deer Food Mixes 

Lastly, there’s nothing more nutritious than a deer mix. These foods are specifically packed together for zoos and farms with deer. They include grains, molasses, oats, alfalfa, and soybeans, including minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients that deer need. These are not only healthy and safe but also tasty for deer.

What is the Worst Food for Deer?

With a list of the best foods for deer figured out, let’s teach you what foods you should avoid. Here are the most common and dangerous:


Deer have a robust digestive system. But strangely, they aren’t capable of digesting corn. Due to corn’s high carb and starch content, deer may eventually get horribly sick or even die from digestive issues.

Acidic Fruits or Vegetables

Citrus Fruits like oranges, lemon, limes, grapefruit, and vegetables like chilies, artichokes, tomatoesgarliconion, and many others can cause all kinds of digestive issues. Deer don’t digest them well.

Artificial Foods

Anything that contains sugar or artificial sweeteners will cause trouble to deer. Similarly, things with too much yeast like bread or cake can also be dangerous. Cookies, sugary drinks, alcohol, and candy are also out of the question.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

With almost everything about deer in mind, let’s learn a few more things:

Will it take long for deer to trust me?

All deer are afraid of other animals, especially humans (we look like predators). For that reason, it could take months before deer trust you. In some cases, they may never trust you at all (they won’t get close if you’re there).

Can deer get aggressive? 

Yes, especially in mating season. Males are always looking to fight for territory, and this fight can involve humans. Also, female deer with fawns get pretty aggressive as a defense mechanism. If the fawns are less than 10 weeks old, their mothers get especially protective.

How to keep deer out of your property?

If you don’t want deer at home anymore, the best solution is to build a double fence (something they can’t jump over). That should be enough.

Can I feed deer with peanut butter?

Yes, they love peanut butter. Hunters use it as bait because it is an unbeatable attracting food.

What plants repel deer?

If you want to try keeping them away naturally, use daffodils, monkshood, poppies, and foxgloves. Salvia, peonies, irises, and sage may also keep them out.


It won’t be easy to bring deer to feed in your backyard, but it’s totally possible as long as you know what they like.

Once you learn what to feed deer in backyard, it shouldn’t be long until they start coming. Just remember to stay away from dangerous foods, and you should have no problem.

So, are you looking to give deer in your area the best food of their life? Then follow our advice above and start right now!

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