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20 Clever Ways That Deer Survive Winter

Deer are one of the most critical species in all of North America. Forests are their primary habitat, and have adapted well to survive winter.

Deer have thick, oily fur which repels snow and rain, and their footpads harden in winter. Caribou can lower the temperature of their legs to low levels so that they retain body heat. Deer will seek shelter in blizzards; on sunny days, they warm up on south-facing slopes.

If you want to know how the deers deal with their wintery conditions, I have put together 20 ways to survive winter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxDfDGS5Ayg

Eyes

Caribou can alter the color and structure of their eyes according to the seasons they go through.  They do this to adapt to the imminent cold.

The changes in the reflective membrane behind the retina are called the tapetum lucidum.  The membrane allows the animals to adapt their eyes to see in the dark or the light. 

The temperature, the atmospheric pressure, water and food, and the possibility of refuge are fundamental issues that influence the reindeer and their habitats. During the cold, they must be able to achieve all these aspects to survive.

Due to the positioning of their eyes, deer have a massive field of view of 310 degrees; this is compared to a human with an area of vision of 180 degrees.  Deer can also see ultraviolet light, although they can only see two colors.  Scientists believe the deer can see blue light and light between red and green.

Their enhanced field of vision comes from the eyes on the side of their head, enabling them to observe the panorama. 

Researchers confirm that UV vision can be helpful for deer in distinguishing food and predators in the snow. For example, lichens, the leading food, would be black in the eyes of deer in North America.

Want some tips for watching deer?  Here are some of my favorites.

Nose

The British Medical Journal magazine took the time to study deer and researched the reindeer’s nose.  They concluded that the red nose is not just a story created for Rudolph.

Thanks to infrared light and a thermal camera, scientists could see the noses of the deer shine with a red or pink pigment.  This information helped a considerable amount in determining how deers breathe during the winter.

Can Ince, a medicine professor, studied the microcirculation of deer and realized that the nose of this species is full of many tiny blood vessels. These blood vessels transport the red blood cells to discharge oxygen in the tissues that need it most.

The deers live in freezing temperatures, with some environments even reaching -40ºC. Even in a cold climate, deer must keep their vital organs at an ideal temperature.   Researchers decided to see how the deer’s temperature changed when they were exhausted.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYg_ytdlhtI

The highly vascularized nose of the deer was found to regulate the temperature of the animal’s brain. The nose acts as ventilation to the brain. The blood vessels are filled and emptied to a rhythmic flow that had never been observed before.

The deer’s noses have smaller vessels and a 25% greater density in those smaller vessels than those of humans. Vascularization helps keep the temperature of the organs in good condition and heat the air that enters the body.

This process makes it much easier for deers to emit the sounds they make as they warm the air that comes in, even during the winter. This is how their throats do not get damaged, and they can keep their voices for the mating season.

A deer’s red nose works like an air conditioner for the air they breathe.  The nose also condenses the water in the mood to conserve moisture.  The moisture in the mucous membranes is in the area of ​​the face and connected to them.

Do female deer grow antlers?  Find out here

Skin and Fur

Skin is an excellent protection method, not just for deer but for every living mammal.  The deer’s whole body is covered in fur, giving them the protection they need during winter.

The skin of the deer has an essential function for the animal.  The skin gives protection against the cold temperatures that the winter brings.  This is why the skin and fur of deer are so desired to make coats for big fashion houses.

The deer’s fur tends to be brown with some touches of black and can change throughout the seasons.  The skin is thick with layers.  Every day it grows more, and it is renewed like human hair.  The skin can provide the animal with reliable protection during heavy snowfall.

Their fur is thick so that they can withstand winter snowfall and snowflakes.  The skin works as a protective barrier against the cold, and the snowflakes melt on the skin, turning it into the water for the deer.  Some species have longer coats than others due to the temperatures where these animals are more extreme than those in warmer climates.

Deer have many advantages, thanks to their skin.  All species have a unique skin type that, in conjunction with their fur, protects them from the winter cold and gives them much-needed warmth. 

The primary function of the hairs is to provide heat to the skin underneath.  This, in turn, keeps the organs from freezing in the sub-arctic conditions.

The fur of a deer traps the air to keep the body insulated and acts as a flotation device when it enters the water. Deer are strong and fast swimmers. When they migrate, they travel through steep terrain and swim through large, icy rivers.

The deer’s winter coat absorbs more sunlight and traps more body heat than the fur they use in summer. Therefore, it provides exceptional protection against extreme temperatures.

Deer use their antlers in many ways.  Please find out more in this article I wrote.

Digging

Deer are known to use their antlers to dig for food in the winter months. Their antlers have a primary function: to help them reach food during this harsh climate. They look for lichens, better known as mosses, that function as the deer’s energy source.

During the winter, the plants that deer usually eat fall on the ground and are buried.  Covered by the snow, they may perish without being found.  The plants can also freeze on the floor.  Deers must find the plants quickly and use their antlers to aid them.

Deer will tilt their heads and begin to peer into the snow to get food.  This is one of the main ways to survive the winter that deer have adapted.  Food is one of the essential ingredients for the species and is in short supply in the winter months.

Getting food from the ground is tricky when the antlers are not fully grown large. Deer will help each other to get enough food in the winter when they are young. When they are adults, getting food is an individual task.

The longer the antlers are, help the deer to get food quickly.  By doing this quickly, they are not expending energy. 

Pads

During the winter, the pads on the feet adapt to the different conditions.  The pads harden to become something like an ice pick.  The deer use this to cut the surface of ice and snow, keeping them steady on their feet. 

Together with their antlers, the hooves are one of the main ways deers survive the winter.  Deer use their feet to excavate food that is buried under snow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-OyCQud3hE

Smell

Another way an adult deer has to survive the winter is in how it feeds.  Deer are herbivores and only eat plants. Favorites include ferns, sprouts, herbs, mosses, fungi, and leaves.

An adult deer can eat four to eight kilos of vegetation per day. Deer have a keen sense of smell that is very useful for finding food during the winter season. 

Deer have an excellent sense of smell, which helps them to find food under the snow.  They will first try to locate the food with their superb nose. 

When they have found the food by smell, they will then start digging.  They will do this by using their hooves and also their antlers.  Their keen sense of smell can tell them how deep the food is.

Deer have such a fantastic sense of smell that they can find lichens below the snow. Lichens are full of energy and helpful in heating the blood of deer. Also known as deer moss, lichen can be buried up to 2 ft (60cm) below the snow.  

With their excellent sense of smell, deer can quickly and efficiently find the lichen, even buried so deep in the snow.  This is one of the main ways deer survive winter.

Bighorn sheep are synonymous with North America.  Find out where they live here.

Temperature

During winter, caribou have adapted to survive the cold by controlling their body temperature. When they feel extreme temperatures, they will adjust their internal temperature controls.

Lowering the temperature of their legs enables the body to redistribute the heat.  The body prioritizes sending the heat to the principal organs of the deer’s body. The heat is sent to the heart, lungs, face, and body.

Caribou are endothermic, so warm blood is circulated down to the feet to stop the legs from freezing.

Pack Animals

Deer are animals that will travel in a herd. The herd is very close and always protects each other, with the strong protecting the weak. Deer are very social animals and do not like to be left alone.  The unity in the pack helps them to survive the deep winters.

During winter, snowstorms make it challenging to see and locate other deer. To stay as a herd during these times, the deer must adapt.

The method they use is through sound waves.  When they are walking, deer will make sounds with their knees.  The sound of the knees tells other deer where the rest of the herd is.

These sounds work exceptionally well in blizzards, where the deer cannot see each other.  By using their large ears, they can hear these sounds over the storm.  

Deer have a more extensive range of hearing than humans.  Although we can hear every bleat and grunt deer make, they hear higher frequencies than us.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1wo6lRmmuQ&t=2696s

Deer can hear up to frequencies of at least 30,000 hertz.  Humans can only hear up to about 20,000 hertz.  This enables them to be able to hear higher-pitched sounds better than us.

Fat storage 

The deers begin to prepare for winter in the months before. They make psychological and physical changes long before the temperatures fall.

They begin by storing fat around the internal organs and under their skin, providing energy reserves.  This helps to protect them for the next few tough months. The deer will eat much more during summer and fall to enable the fat to build up for the winter.

First, the deer start to create internal fat.  This helps to protect the main organs, including the heart, lungs, stomach, and liver. They will then generate further fat under the fur.

As winter arrives, fat works as a natural heat generator that helps the deer be comfortable even in freezing temperatures.

Activity

Deer have an excellent talent for running, and they are a very active species. However, this changes drastically when they enter the cold winter season.  They adapt their lifestyle to a slower pace, knowing the new shortage of food they will face.

During the winter, deers can not consume 8 kg of food per day, just as they did during spring or summer.  As the snow falls, this covers the few plants there are, and with nothing growing, they have to adapt to a new diet.

The way they do this is by decreasing their activity.  When winter approaches, deer will stop running and traveling long distances.  This gives them the energy to survive throughout the winter with the minimum amount of food they eat.

The body of the animal fulfills the main vital functions only.  These are the heartbeat, breathing, digestion, and body temperature.  Any other activity they want to perform can not be done since the body is at minimum power.  The energy must be administered prudently by the deer until the winter is over.

Deer keep their functions intact to run or perform any activity that involves a significant expenditure of energy if needed. 

When the winter is over, and with an abundant supply of new plant matter plentiful, the deer return to all the physical activities they did before; physical activity keeps their legs from atrophy, and they can burn off any excess fat they have left in the winter months.

Shelters

Although deer have many ways to protect themselves from the cold, they also need good shelter.  This needs to be a comfortable place where they can take cover when the weather is very threatening.  Deer, during winter, tend to seek refuge in coniferous stands. 

These areas are much sought after by deers because they are an ideal refuge from the conditions.  These stands consist of firs, spruces, pines, and larches.  They form a uniform stand with low shrubs beneath, making an excellent winter location for the deer.

The wind speed in the coniferous stands is reduced, and snow accumulates on the trees.  This provides a much better cover than a field would.  As more snow accumulates in these spaces, the deer will be at a higher temperature at night than they would typically be. This helps them sleep better, knowing the cold will not get to them.

The shelters they choose are not far from where they usually live in other seasons. They typically spend the nights in their burrows, trying to warm up, using the herd’s warmth. They also take advantage of the ground with thermal cover from the blanket of snow.  Once they wake, they go out to look for food and stretch their legs a little.

Many mammals live in freezing conditions in winter.  Please find out how they survive in this article I wrote.

Diet

Some deer, depending on their location, choose to change their diet.  Their diet is a way to survive the winter and adapt without significant problems. 

Deer can change their diet from green plants to nuts and woody plants. They look for ends of hairy branches or jagged scars on the trees where the deer have used their lower teeth to tear off limbs.

These trees help them accumulate fat as they consume approximately five to nine pounds of food daily. The deer use this fat reserve during the winter to supplement their food intake. They can lose up to 20 percent of their body weight before spring.

Deer understands there will not be as much food during this time of year.  The lack of food is why they will eat as much as they can in the seasons before.

By storing enough energy, the deer are ready for the rough winter.  Although their food supplies are lower in the winter, the deer will not need to eat as much.  This is because they have this reserve of energy.

Among the foods that deers can eat is white cedar, a deer’s favorite food.  Although not the most nutritional tree for the deer, the cedar is easy to digest.  Deers know which foods are easier to digest and which foods to avoid, and they will do this until starvation becomes a realistic possibility.

Deer choose foods that are easy to digest in the winter.  Due to their metabolism decreasing, digestible food is preferred.  By choosing easier-to-digest plants and trees, the deer do not have to expend the same energy to digest heavy meals. 

With the food available, deer can not spend significant calories to break down the tastiest foods and extract better nutrients when they are easier to digest.

Teamwork

Deer are herd animals and do not function well when alone.  When groups of deers assemble, they also protect each other. It is common to see a group of deer looking in different directions, watching for predators.

If a predator is discovered, a tail swish serves as a warning signal to the rest of the herd.  This way, all the deer can be alert and protect themselves from predators.

Deer will fight to protect themselves, and although not the most fearsome in the animal kingdom, they will do what they can to protect themselves and the herd.  They may kick and bite to stop predators from attacking.  Teamwork is crucial for deer to survive during the winter.

If deer did not stick together, no deer would be left in the World.   Predators are a significant threat within forests, and it is necessary that each deer take care of the other’s back, whether this be against predators or storms and blizzards.

Many mammals hibernate during winter.  Please find out more in this article I wrote.

Sun

Deer use the sun in winter to help them survive.  Deer look for slopes oriented to the south, predominating those towards the southeast.  These spaces are where you will see the highest activity of deer.  West-facing slopes may also receive some deer migration activity.

The south-facing slopes receive the most sunlight throughout the day, making the area more attractive for this species. Also, gaining more daylight produces more vegetation, so the deer have more opportunities to eat during the winter.

Energy

One of the deer’s main tricks is not doing much physical activity in winter.  Deer can sit for long periods during a severe storm without moving for days.  At this time, they do not even eat.  They make this possible by depending on the reserves of fat that they have created during the fall.

The lack of physical activity leads them to use the minimum energy.  This is why, even if they do not eat well enough in winter, their body will always have the power to assist with vital functions.

Oil

Deer also have oil-producing glands in the skin that help the hair repel water.  This is especially valuable in the snow.  These oil droplets are similar to the cells in human hair that prevent snowflakes from melting in your hair.  If the cold rain and snow reached the skin under the fur, this would likely freeze the animal.

If these glands did not exist, all the snow that falls on them would arrive without a significant problem until their skin causing them to cool down and lose the body heat they are trying so hard to preserve. The oil-producing glands are distributed throughout the skin, with some studies revealing that they can be found in hair follicles.

Heart Rate

Due to their large bodies, energy can be used up very quickly.  One adaptation the deer has is the direct correlation between the heart rate and the deer’s body temperature.

When things get tough during the winter, the deer lower their heart rate and body temperature, reducing energy expenditure. The resting heart rate of a deer is 40 to 50 beats per minute.    Humans have higher heart rates of lower than 50 beats per minute.

It does not matter if the deers eat too much or too little to store energy; the heart rate slows down during the winter.  The heart rate, which is generally 65 beats per minute in spring, lowers to as much as 40 beats per minute in winter.

Many marine mammals survive cold conditions using a layer of fat.  Please find out more about fat in this article I wrote.

Sleep

The winter coat keeps these animals warm even in temperatures of -30º Fahrenheit.  One of the highest quality sleeping bags of a camping company protects people in cold temperatures up to zero degrees.  This makes a deer’s winter coat much more protective than today’s most advanced sleeping bags.

Every hair in a deer’s winter coat is hollow, so the air is trapped inside, encouraging them to retain heat.  This heating method has been used in cold-weather clothing, bedspreads, and window panes.

Drinking

All deer need water to survive, but they can meet their water needs in a few ways.  Deer can get their intake from bodies of water in their habitat.  They can also get water from consuming the foods they eat. 

This is considered as performed water and is taken from the plant.  Through the process of digestion, water is released from food.

During the winter, deer do not feel as much need to drink water in summer or spring.  This is somewhat convenient since freshwater freezes during cold climates. 

Although they do not need to drink as much in winter, deer will consume water at every opportunity. During winter, deer can recycle their urine and dry their feces internally to conserve water.

Hypothermia 

Deer can face hypothermia if they fall into the icy water in the winter season.  Like any other living being, they will eventually succumb to hypothermia. 

Deer can handle much colder temperatures before hypothermia is a concern.  They can swim for a few minutes until they manage to get out of the body of water.

The reason why the cold water does not affect them is due to the skin they have. The skin acts as a flotation device when they begin to swim, either voluntarily or accidentally.

Hypothermia can occur if they last more than five minutes in the water.  After five minutes, they will lose all body heat no matter how thick their fur and skin are.

Conclusion

Deers have many methods and adaptations to help them survive in the winter.  

The methods they have developed to survive the cold are part of their evolution, taking place over millions of years. Deer are one of the most evolved species during the winter, and most of the herd tend to survive.

Deer are a very well-kept species in North America. Some non-governmental organizations are dedicated to the surveillance and protection of deer, not only during the winter but also during other seasons.

We can learn from the adaptations and behavior of deer, which can help us adapt to the cold conditions we face.

Cougars are excellent hunters and will prey on many other species.  Please find out how they catch their food in this article I wrote.