how do deer survive the winter

How Do Deer Survive The Winter? [UPDATED 2021]

Who wouldn’t like to be tucked in and stay cozy in the harsh winters? Sadly, deers don’t have that luxury. White-tailed deer, the deer species seen throughout the United States, rely on adaptations, biological elements, and behavioral changes to survive winter.

Biological Elements

Due to the positioning of their eyes, deer’s field of view is 310 degrees.  Deer also see ultraviolet light in two colors.  Their enhanced vision comes from the deer’s eyes as they are present on their head’s side. Thereby enabling them to observe the entire panorama. For example, lichens appear black in the eyes of deer in North America.

How Do Deer Survive The Winter?

How does their body react?

The nose of deer is full of many small blood vessels that transport the red blood cells to discharge oxygen in the tissues that need it most. In the winter, the highly vascularized nose of the deer regulates the temperature of their brains. 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 vascularization further helps heat the air that enters their body. This makes it easier for deer to emit their sounds as they warm the air that comes in, to prevent throat damage.

Digging for food

Deer use their antlers to dig for food in the winter. The plants that deer normally eat fall on the ground and are buried.  Covered by the snow, these plants may perish by freezing on the ground.

Hence, deer must find the plants quickly by the use of their antlers. During the winter, the pads on their feet harden to become like an ice pick. They are used to cut the surface of snow and keeping them steady on their feet. They also use their hooves to excavate food buried under snow.

Due to their large bodies, deer have a direct correlation between the heart rate and their temperature. Under extreme conditions, deer lower their heart rate and temperature to conserve energy. Their heart rate is at 65 beats per minute in spring and lowers to 40 beats per minute in winter.

Behavioral Changes

In fall, they begin shedding summer fur coats to allow a winter coat. The fur in a deer’s winter coat consists of thicker, longer, and darker hair called guard hair, while also growing in a much thicker undercoat. Furthermore, it is hollow, which allows air to be trapped. The air makes body heat retention easier; a white-tail deer’s temperature is 104. Hence, they do not feel the cold from the snow.

In addition to that, they have special muscles to help them adjust the angle of their hair for maximum insulation. Furthermore, you will observe deer’s color change from a red-brown hue to a grey-brown one in the winter months. It is because the darker or deeper shade helps them in absorption of more of the sun’s heat to warm themselves even more.

As a result of this winter coat, their skin produces an oil that makes their fur water repellent. Hence, their fur has protection against cold and snow.

Suitable timing adjustments

Deer herd-up and actually roam more while it is daylight so as to conserve the energy that they need to keep their body temperature in control. They shelter in areas near food sources that provide more cover. In extreme conditions, they sometimes stay in place for days and rely on their fat stores to survive.

They reduce their activity in winters. This allows them to eat less and conserve energy. These areas, known as “deer yards,” may encompass many acres providing shelter for deers.

Furthermore, these areas have nearby southern-facing slopes where they can absorb the heat of the sun on sunny days. In preparation, they add extra fat to their bodies to insulate against the cold properly. To build their body fat, they consume five to nine pounds of food each day. Deer draw on this fat reserve to supplement food consumption.

Grouping to survive

Whitetails also begin to accumulate in groups in the months of winter. They search out the same type of wintering area and find security in numbers. The higher the number of animals, the lower are the chances of a predator selecting one.

In addition to that, there are obvious benefits of extra eyes, ears, and noses to detect approaching predators. Even the mature ones are known to spend a great part of the year in solitude.

Or, they do so with a larger group to live in close proximity during winter. In the northern areas, there are herds that are actually hundreds in quantity, especially in the later part of the winter season as well as during early spring season when the food sources are limited.

Diet Changes

Deer continue their usual diet in winters while mixing nuts, berries, and mushrooms. These foods contain more calories that allow them to store more energy. One of their top food sources is woody browse. The woody vegetation type clearly depends on their area, but some instances of it are eastern hemlock, aspen seedlings, as well as Canada yew.


These animals have multiple ways as well as adaptations that can aid them to survive in the winter season. The ways that these creatures have developed in order to survive the winter season is in fact, a part of their evolution. It has taken place not just in a jiffy, but over a million years’ period.

It looks like these species have some great natural and creative ways to cope with climate changes.