I feel like I’m going to start a debate with my topic of the day! Already, when I talked about red squirrels a few weeks ago, I raised passions: you all had a squirrel story (probably gray!) to share. Well, today, I’m touching on a ticklish subject: the famous “deer”!
Europe and North America have two, distinct, but very similar species. Their antlers are not the same size and do not point in the same direction: shorter and upwards like the picture on the left is the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), in Europe. Wider and pointing forward – on the right – is the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which lives in America.
If you come across an antlerless female, how can you tell the difference? There are obviously other more subtle differences, but to make it simple, ask Google Maps which continent you’re on ;P
Deer In North America
Don’t lie, when you wake up one morning to a deer in your yard, or have an encounter on a trail, you are amazed. What a majestic beast. Both delicate and muscular, with big wet eyes, a curious snowy nose and, if you’re lucky, one or two young of the year not far from their protective mother…
Awww… How cute…
This is where the good things I have to say end!
The reality is that deer are destructive. They won’t eat your wires or cut holes in your house, but they will eat your plants. All your plants. And your car, if like me, you live in the country!
White-tailed deer are generalists and herbivores. This means that they eat almost everything that is green: young shoots, leaves, buds, seeds, flowers, vegetables, fruits…
Fortunately, it leaves our green (recycling) bins alone! It must not be the right green to please them…! I’m kidding, of course, when I say “green”, I mean vegetation.
Luckily for us, they are generally fearful. They don’t get too close to homes (I mean generally, don’t throw tomatoes at me, and read on for an explanation of why they still destroy everything in your house).
My Personal Experience With Deer
When I moved to the country, I surrounded my yard with a 6-foot fence to keep the deer out. After two years, I found that none were approaching. So the fence was redesigned to make it more elegant and useful for the truly naughty creatures that live in my house: the small rodents.
I made this decision because I could not see any evidence (footprints or droppings) of deer passage near the house at all. They’re content with the bottom of my wooded lot where wild apple trees grow.
However, in the last few months, deer have been passing in front of my house…. A little too close to my plum trees for my taste. So begins my story…
At the sight of the trespasser, I unleashed my faithful dog Sayanel at the intruder. Here is what I understood from their exchange as my terrifying 15 pound poodle ran towards the deer:
—“FRIEND!!!! COME PLAY!!!!
-A MONSTER THAT WILL EAT ME: AAAAHHH!!!!!
-“Come back, I can’t go any further! ……. Okay, bye… 🙁 “
After two or three times, he did not come back, and so I had chased him away from my home.
Why Are Deer Such a Big Problem?
There are those who love them and want to let them live, and those who are victims of deer. Who is right?
Generalist species are the ones that survive urban sprawl best. They find a new source of food and reproduce easily, while other more selective species struggle to adapt. The generalists then have free rein to proliferate and even become invasive. Sometimes it’s nothing really disturbing to us (like coyotes), and sometimes it’s more problematic (like grey squirrels).
Deer have adapted well to the presence of humans. A small patch of woods is enough to keep them content, and when they need more, they’ll grab a few of your squash. Their predators can’t say the same for themselves. Wolves, which are less comfortable with small spaces and the presence of humans, no longer exist where deer breed.
So far, no problem.
The trouble comes when the deer are breeding, again, and again, and again, with no natural force to reduce their numbers. They devour everything available to them in the forest, then, running out of foliage, they leave these natural environments to eat your flower beds and find a place where there is more food.
Vehicular collisions, starving herbivores (deer, but also rabbits, groundhogs and others) and high-profile controversies over what to do with a surplus of deer in an urban forest area…
This can be described as an imbalance in the ecosystem.
What Can We Do to Save What We Want to Save?
I don’t want to start a debate, I’m giving you a biologist’s solution to restore the balance in nature: you have to introduce a natural predator.
Is that possible? No, wolves don’t live near humans. So what? We have to find another way to reduce their numbers… because they’ll starve to death anyway! Sterilize them? Hunt them down? I don’t have the right answer (I don’t think there is one), and we’ll never all agree…. But I personally like deer chops with blue cheese sauce!
In your garden: scare them. Difficult to do because they’re often so used to the presence of humans (especially in the city) that they’re not afraid of anything! Be ingenious… and keep your fingers crossed!
Some Ideas to Try to Scare Your Deer
- Let your dog go for it (of course, only if he has no chance of approaching them, you don’t want the deer kick it in the face!)
- Come screaming out and run at them.
- Install a motion detector that makes noise, lights or sprays the intruder.
- Hide aluminum foil under a layer of leaves around your appetizing plants.
- Install ropes that hang from tree branches and touch the deer as they approach.
- Be creative!
This article may not have given you a clear and easy solution to your problems, but I hope it has enlightened you as to why deer are a problem in your gardens!