Oh deer, winter is here

Adam MacInnis webcomments@ngnews.ca
Published on January 8, 2014
These deer were being fed by people in Pictou County last year. While people may be well meaning, the Department of Natural Resources advises against human intervention in wildlife patterns. SUBMITTED BY SHAVONNE MEYER

NEW GLASGOW - The weather outside has indeed been frightful, but Department of Natural Resources regional biologist Shavonne Meyer says at this point there’s little need for concern about wildlife.

While animals do certainly face challenges in the winter months, she said nature has a way of adapting and it’s usually best for people to suppress the urge to help. She said the animals change what they eat and even their digestive systems adjust to the food they’re eating. Deer for instance in winter adapt to eating more high-fibre, low-nutrition foods.

She said the animals that don’t hibernate also change where they’re living to be better able to deal with the cold. They’ll typically go to areas where there is better shelter such as a softwood stand and to areas with less snow.

While much may be covered in snow and ice, Meyer said animals are usually able to find freshwater somewhere.  

“They can eat snow, but they prefer to start with water in the first place,” she said.

In the worst of conditions, the animals are able to convert fat stores into water.

One area that can impact animals in winter is the greater risk of predators. Deer, for instance, can’t move as quickly in snow and on ice and are often more at risk for coyote attacks.

What predators eat often changes too. While they might be content to eat berries in the summer, predators turn to other animals more readily in winter.

Meyer cautions owners of small pets to be aware that coyotes are looking for food and it’s best to keep their pets in a protected area to prevent them from becoming a snack.

As much as people might want to help animals through the winter, Meyer said the best thing to do is leave the natural order of nature as it is.

She said feeding animals can keep them in areas that they wouldn’t ordinarily be in and actually make winter harder. It also creates a dependency and makes the animals tame. The food they’re being fed can also be something they’re not meant to digest at that time of year.

“It’s well-meaning in many cases, but it often results in a negative impact to those deer.” While the deer or other animals might be friends to one person, they can cause damage and be a pest to another, as well she noted.