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Winter Deer Foods

The following is a partial listing of tree and shrub species that are eaten by deer in the winter, arranged in order of quality and preference. This listing is based on thousands of observations in deer wintering areas over many years from all parts of New York State.

Preferred or Best Liked

Cedar (white or arborvitae), sassafras, wintergreen, alternate-leaved dogwood, yew, mountain maple, witch hobble, basswood, apple, maples*, flowering dogwood, and staghorn sumac.

Second Choice

Elderberry, highbush cranberry, silky dogwood, nannyberry, wild raisin, red-berried elder, highbush blueberry, red osier dogwood, cucumber tree, arbutus, mountain ash, willow*, honeysuckle, and hemlock.

Readily Eaten

White ash, black birch, American chestnut, spicebush, black walnut, butternut, wild grape, sugar maple, yellow birch, black cherry, choke cherry, shadbush (winterberry), black ash, bush honeysuckle, oaks*, hickory, witch hazel, elm, lowbush blueberry, hazelnut, and leatherwood.

Starvation or Poor Food

Scotch pine**, red pine**, mountain laurel**, paper birch, spruces, grey-stemmed dogwood, raspberry, blackberry, sheep laurel, buckthorn, pitch pine**, beech, rhododendron**, musclewood (blue beech), alder, red cedar, sweet fern, tamarack, hawthorn, white pine**, aspen (poplar), gray birch, ironwood (hop hornbeam), black locust, balsam**, gooseberry*, currant* and pin cherry.

*There is considerable difference in palatability and preference of the different species of this genus.

**This species is often browsed heavily enough to appear to be second choice food in areas where winter food is inadequate.

More about Winter Deer Foods:

  • Cutting Browse for Deer - An explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of cutting browse and what kinds of vegetation would provide the best food supply for deer in winter.
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    Albany, NY 12233-4754
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