I must admit that I have never given too much thought to what deer eat. That is until I saw someone pose the question: do deer eat walnuts?
Suddenly, I found myself going down a research rabbit hole and learning all about the diet of these placid but ever-present creatures.
I’ve learned that deer adore fruit, berries, and nuts, but in terms of preference, most often make do with what is available to them, including eating bark, twigs, and grass.
Deer fall into a category of animals known as browsers. This means that they feed all day, snacking on all sorts of things that they find in their natural environments.
On average, a deer consumes up to 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms) of food each day, which comprises both vegetation and more substantial foods like fruit, seeds, and nuts.
When it comes to nuts, deer predominantly feast on pecan nuts, hickory nuts, acorns, beechnuts, and chestnuts. Deer like walnuts, but their hard outer shells make them difficult to crack open and eat.
For this reason, walnuts are not a deer’s first choice, but instead more of a last resort – a nut they will feed on if they are struggling to find other food sources. In this post, we’ll explore deer’s relationship with walnuts.
Do Deer Eat Walnuts?
Deer will attempt to eat walnuts if the opportunity presents itself, but it is difficult for them to crack open their hard shells.
They also dislike the smell walnut shells give off, which sometimes serves as a deterrent. For this reason, walnuts (black walnuts in particular) are not their first-choice food. If you spy a deer going after a walnut tree, it is likely because they are running low on other foraging options.
As much as deer love nuts, they tend to prefer those that are freely available and easy to eat. This includes wild nuts like acorns and beechnuts, as well as those grown commercially, like pecan nuts.
The outer shells of these nut species present far less of a challenge to their small mouths and teeth. They are also less pungent than walnuts.
While deer are unlikely to seek out walnuts, they may attempt a nibble or two during their usual daily browsing. Young nuts are easier for them to consume, and they also eat twigs and shoots off walnut trees.
An affinity for walnuts is unusual in deer but may indicate that other food sources are running low in the area. Some landowners have been known to plant walnut trees as a deterrent to deer because they are not fond of their smell.
What Are The Nutritional Benefits Of Walnuts For Deer?
Walnuts contain more protein than any other type of tree nut. They also have plenty of manganese and omega vitamins, both of which are healthy and beneficial for humans and animals alike.
Protein is good for deer, especially those that are still growing, as it promotes healthy bone development and provides them with plenty of energy. While they generally don’t seek out walnuts in their diet, these nuts will not harm them but instead are quite nutritious.
We know that walnuts make a great addition to the diets of humans, but what do they mean for deer?
As mentioned in the previous section, deer have a strange relationship with these nuts because while they are nutritionally beneficial, they can be very difficult for deer to eat, given that they can seldom crack open their hard shells.
Therefore, while walnuts might be considered a good food choice for deer, they’re entirely impractical for daily feeding.
Instead, deer find nutrients in other nuts and fruit they pick up throughout the day. In times of food shortages, they may occasionally turn to walnuts to provide them with dietary must-haves like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
They also like to snack on young tree shoots, leaves, and buds that contain many of the same nutrients.
Should You Feed Wild Deer Walnuts?
While wild deer can eat and enjoy walnuts, it is never advisable to feed them as it tends to cause more damage than good.
The supplemental feeding of wild animals can cause an imbalance in their biological activity, leading to an increase in deer fatalities over time.
Deer tend to congregate in areas where they know they’ll receive food from humans, and this can cause an increase in the prevalence of deer predators and an over-browsing of existing food sources.
It sounds counter-intuitive to think that providing deer with a little extra food can be harmful, but delicious treats like walnuts will keep them coming back for more, often to their detriment.
Supplemental feeding can cause a slew of issues among deer populations, including aggression, exclusion, and the spreading of diseases.
When feeding nuts from your own growing supply, you may also find you suddenly have deer that just won’t stop snacking on your trees.
Once deer start to lose their fear of humankind, they also tend to stop relying on their usual biological environment for food. This means that come winter, they’re less equipped for survival.
Deer are also more at risk of being hurt by vehicle collisions or predators if they keep returning to spots inhabited by humans. While it is tempting to feed wild deer walnuts, the answer is yes, you can, but you shouldn’t – for the greater good of the deer themselves.
Deer love to eat nuts, which form a large part of their diet, but walnuts are not a particular favorite. This is largely due to their difficulty cracking their shells and the harsh smell they omit. Walnut farmers, in turn, generally try to deter deer from walnut trees, too, employing protective covers or deer repellant sprays. While deer are certainly known to eat walnuts occasionally, it is not a prevalent behavior and is usually reserved for when other food sources are running low. Deer will also eat walnuts from humans, but it is not advisable to make a habit of giving them this kind of treat.