Deer don’t migrate or have the luxury of a warm, cozy home. How do deer stay warm in the winter? Thanks to variety of adaptions and behaviors, they survive winter just fine.
How do deer survive winter? Deer have adapted to live in a variety of locations and climates. Many species have some type of cold-weather protection. We’ll take a look at just six of these adaptations and behaviors below.
1. Fattening Up
As winter approaches, deer begin stocking up on food. Instead of eating leaves and grass, their diets will become more berry and tree-based.
This includes getting a good bite of tree bark for those extra calories. Bucks will try to get their body weight up to 200 pounds and does may try to be around 180.
The extra weight helps keep them warm and gives them fat reserves to rely on when food is scarce.
The fat acts as an insulator to keep their body heat in. It also holds a lot of energy. This energy will be used throughout the winter while they wander to find food or need to run away from a predator.
And with the extra weight, they can push through deeper snow if necessary.
Here’s what deer eat in the winter.
2. Thicker Coat
In the summer, a deer’s coat is fairly thin and light to keep them cool. As fall comes around, they shed their coat to replace it with their thicker and heavier layer of winter fur.
Their winter coat is grown with thicker and longer hairs, which are designed to trap heat and keep them extra warm. Since the hair is darker and thicker, it also acts as an insulator.
When the body radiates heat, the hairs keep it trapped for a little while longer before it disappears into the cold air.
Deer tend to look a little fluffier in the winter because of this.
Their hairs are also darker in color. This is to help attract heat from the sun on those rare sunny days for extra warmth. Darker colors absorb light and heat, so this is another useful feature of their winter coat.
In addition to the hairs on a deer’s winter coat being darker, longer, and thicker, they are also hollow. This doesn’t make a lot of sense at first, but it is a strategy that is meant to help keep them warm.
A deer’s body radiates heat and the hollow hairs then absorb it. The hairs are able to hold onto the heat for a bit longer before it finally leaves the fur.
3. Temperature Control
Deer, like all mammals, are endothermic. This means that they create most of their heat internally. They can absorb heat from the outside to stay warm, but most of it comes from the inside.
On top of that, some deer can go as far as to regulate the heat levels in certain parts of their bodies. In super cold conditions, they will take some of the heat from their legs and redirect it to their vital organs.
Of course, they have to be careful not to freeze their legs completely and make sure some heat gets through the rest of their body.
4. Oily Skin
In the winter, a deer’s skin produces a special oil. This oil is meant to coat the skin and some of their fur.
They produce this oil all winter and it acts as a water repellant. This keeps wet snow from their coat getting soaked and freezing on windy days.
This is especially useful for when they have to push through thicker snow to find food or a place to rest.
5. Out of Food
We already talked about how their layer of fat is meant to keep the body warm during the winter, acting as an insulator.
It has another purpose. Deer are herbivores, they rely on plants for food, and wintertime is when there is the least amount of plant life.
They can survive on some dead leaves, twigs, bark, and anything popping up near the beginning of spring.
However, a storm could come and they would need to stay in their shelters for a couple of days until it passes. Their shelters could be small like a cave, under a big branch, or beneath a group of trees.
What are they going to eat if they are snowed in?
This is where the fat comes in. The fat they stored is filled with extra energy.
They are then able to use this energy in dire situations when food is limited. The more they store up, the better winter will go for them. They also rely on these shelters as places for rest.
They don’t want to exert too much energy in the winter in order to save fat. Then during those couple days of limited food during a snowstorm, they won’t starve.
6. Big Groups
Deer are social creatures. They don’t like living alone and tend to stay in groups, especially during the winter. During the winter staying in groups helps for many reasons.
For one, they are able to spot predators easily. Everyone in the group is on the lookout so they can all flee at the same time when a predator is near.
Staying in groups also prevents them from getting picked off as easily because there are plenty of bucks to protect the group.
Another great benefit of groups is that they are able to huddle together for warmth. When resting on the ground or in a shelter, they can stay close and use each other’s body heat for extra warmth.
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Have you seen white-tailed deer in the winter? Which of these adaptations impresses you the most? Join me below!
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Dena Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outdoor gear and guides.
She loves being outside and has hiked the Galapagos, explored the Andes Mountains, and camped and explored her province’s backyard.
She also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Storyteller Tech. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company she started with her husband, Bryan.
Monday 21st of March 2022
Thanks for your great information. I looked out our back window the other morning and was greeted by 5- deer. I called my husband and told him he said, I have my own 5-deer in the front yard. We are on a small Island iin Nova Scotia.