On a recent trip to Duluth, Minnesota on Highway 61 I saw tons of deer. There were quite a few dead deer on the side of the road and plenty of ones that were alive. It’s been a long winter for the deer with all of the deep snow in the woods. Closer to Lake Superior the snow melts a little faster alongside of the Highway so the deer come to find browse. In the process many of them attempt to cross the road without looking both ways and find themselves beneath the tires of a vehicle. Others have fallen prey to timber wolves who are better able to stay on the surface of the snow than a deer. How does the winter affect deer? Read below to find out.
Here’s some more information about deer and their winter experience from the DNR.
Q: How does the winter cold and snow affect deer, and how do they survive Minnesota’s winter weather?
A: Wildlife in Minnesota must be able to withstand a wide variety of environmental conditions, which provides a niche for cold-adapted species that may otherwise be outcompeted by species that cannot survive the winter. White tailed deer are found throughout North America and Central America, but also exhibit some winter adaptations. The heavy fur on the outside of a deer’s coat is hollow. The air stored inside each hair serves as an insulator that buffers the deer’s warm body from colder outside temperatures, much like the insulation inside a house’s wall traps warm air.
Snow affects deer in many ways. Like the hair on a deer’s back, fluffy snow can also trap air and provide good insulation for any animal that beds down in a deep snow drift. Snow can also be a detriment to deer because it can make food more difficult to find. In winter, deer often shift from typical grazers feeding on grasses and herbaceous plants to browsers that feed on buds and rely on fat reserves gained during the summer. Deep snow can also make travel more difficult for deer, meaning that they may alter their movement patterns or try to find areas where food and cover from wind are nearby one another. This can cause deer to “herd up” in winter as they congregate near an available source of food or a windbreak.
-Charlie Tucker, assistant manager, Red Lake Wildlife Management Area
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