Wildlife expert: Feeding deer carries a bite
At Goffstown Ace Hardware, people are buying feed for deer in bulk as the winter wears on, employee Tim Deline said. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)
At places that sell feed and grain, such as Goffstown Ace Hardware, deer food flies off the shelf at this time of year.
For just under $12, people can purchase a 40-pound bag of feed that combines protein and other nutrients with molasses, which attracts deer, Deline said. There are also deer pellets available in similarly sized bags. When the snow is deep and the deer look hungry, good Samaritans try to help out.
But feeding the deer may be more harmful than helpful, said Matt Tarr, a wildlife specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Durham.
When deer are fed regularly by humans, they tend to congregate near the food source, creating an unnaturally high density of deer within a confined area during the winter, he said. The deer will eat all of the feed that's left for them, but they'll also eat all of the natural food within that area.
"Deer who eat at a feeding site in the winter can be 10 to 15 miles away from that site during hunting season," he said.
Another problem is that deer have a pecking order. The big, healthy animals get to eat first while the smaller, weaker animals — including fawns — only get what's left over.
If the grain is gone, what's left is the natural food. But if that food supply has been exhausted because of the high density of deer, the weak and young can succumb to starvation and predators, he said. Coyotes, bobcats, even lynx in the North Country feast on deer and like to keep tabs on where each herd is spending its winter, Tarr said.
"Pretty much any animal you can think of will eat this stuff," said Deline.
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