Deer adapting to heavy snow this year
DES MOINES — The recent run of sub-zero temperatures across the country spurred several stories about animals who died in the cold or struggled.
The Department of Natural Resources’ Tyler Harms tracks the deer numbers in Iowa and says it is part of the natural cycle.
“In winters like this where we have persistent deep snow cover and extremely cold temperatures — it’s definitely going to impact wildlife. We start to see some of those weaker individuals or younger individuals that succumb to these very harsh conditions,” Harms says.
He says he’s heard a few reports of deer with problems — but overall they can handle the Iowa winters very well. “Whitetail deer are native to Iowa, so they have been dealing these extreme winter conditions throughout their entire time here,” according to Harms. “They certainly have adapted biologically to be able to handle these conditions. You know oftentimes they change their behavior and their bodies change to conserve as much energy as they can and they utilize the food they have available to them.”
He says deer are very good at finding any source of food available and you may’ve seen them in some backyards this winter looking for food. One thing he says everyone should avoid is putting out food for deer — as he says that can cause more problems than it solves.
Harms says setting out a pile of corn is an example. “A pile of corn is really like a pile of candy for deer. It’s something that they certainly like to eat and it is something they can eat on occasion. But too much candy is not good for anyone,” Harms says. “Deer require a varied of different food sources, much like we do.”
Another danger is piles of food bringing deer together and concentrating them in one area. That can lead to the spread of diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease — which is always fatal to deer. Harms says they are better off than you might think.
“They can manage quite well even in these extreme conditions. And while unfortunately, we do see some mortality of wildlife during times like this — for the most part on a population level — many critters do survive and are able to fight their way and live through it. It is pretty amazing that they are able to do that,” Harms says.
Harms says they will know more about the winter’s impact on animals later this year.