Friday, October 26, 2012

Habitat, Not Handouts

One winter years ago, my yard was a gathering place for a handful of does and fawns as they made their daily begging rounds about the area. After filling up on day-old bakery goods at my neighbor's place, they'd come down and wait at my front door for a few carrots, cucumber rind, or whatever apples I had to spare. My babes and I delighted in the daily visit, and we took great satisfaction in providing the deer a bit of "healthy" food to get them through the often frigid nights.  We slept a little easier believing that we helped take the edge off the suffering the deer might endure.   

Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
In mid-February, a perfectly healthy-looking yearling fawn wandered into my backyard and bedded down at the edge of the heavy brush line behind the house.  Even though the days were getting warmer and the snow was pretty well melted, I threw pints of cherry tomatoes and wholegrain cereal to her.  She could use a little comfort food, I reasoned.  For three days, she lingered there, standing up occasionally to nibble, but becoming noticeably weaker by the day.   On the fourth morning, I walked outside to find the fawn dead beside a sizable pile of droppings, indicating that she had been eating plenty of food.  But, through her thick coat, I could see deep troughs between her ribs.  She had obviously died, in part, due to insufficient fat reserves, but I wondered why the extra food hadn't given her a boost.
With a little bit of research, I discovered that there are many pitfalls to feeding deer, and maybe my offerings weren't as helpful as I'd hoped. 
Read more about why healthy habitat is so much more important to wildlife than handouts HERE, and learn how you can help improve winter habitat in your area HERE.

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