Why Deer Choose Greenbrier Over Corn in Winter

My image for today is of two Whitetail Does that were feeding near a tangled mess of vines and other plants near the auto tour road located at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. I’m always curious about what deer like to feed on, especially in the cold winter months. On this day I think they were feeding on greenbrier but I am not sure. What I also noticed is that there was a large field of standing corn a short distance away. I decided to do a little research on why deer would prefer other foods instead of corn, which I know they like.

Two Whitetail Does Choosing Brush Buffet
Two Whitetail Does Choosing Brush Buffet (Larger Image)

Here is what I discovered:

There are several potential reasons why the deer I saw were eating greenbrier instead of the standing corn, even though the corn might seem like a more appealing option at first glance. Here are some factors to consider:

Greenbrier’s benefits:

  • Nutrition: Greenbrier stems and leaves are surprisingly nutritious, containing protein, carbohydrates, and essential minerals. While not as calorie-dense as corn, greenbrier may offer a more balanced diet, especially when deer lack other food sources.
  • Accessibility: Greenbrier may be more easily accessible than the standing corn. In winter, frozen or snow-covered ground can make it difficult for deer to reach the ears of corn, while greenbrier remains readily available at ground level.
  • Digestibility: The deer’s digestive system is adapted to browse on plants like greenbrier, slowly fermenting them to extract nutrients. Although corn is more energy-rich, it can be challenging for them to digest quickly, especially in cold weather when metabolism slows down.

Potential drawbacks of corn:

  • Digestive issues: High-carbohydrate foods like corn can lead to bloat and other digestive problems, especially if eaten in large quantities. This risk increases in winter when deer have less water or fiber in their diet to balance out the carbs.
  • Energy expenditure: Reaching and consuming corn could require more energy than browsing on greenbrier, especially if the ground is difficult to navigate. In winter, when energy conservation is crucial, deer may prioritize readily available resources like greenbrier.
  • Palatability: While deer do eat corn, it’s not always their preferred food source. Greenbrier may have a specific flavor or nutritional profile that they find more appealing at that particular time.
Ear Of Corn In A Cornfield
Ear Of Corn In A Cornfield

Ultimately, the decision to eat greenbrier over corn likely depends on a combination of factors specific to the situation and the individual deer. What we can conclude is that deer are discerning browsers and often make choices based on what best meets their immediate needs and digestive capabilities.

It’s always fascinating to observe the behavior of wild animals like deer and try to understand the reasons behind their foraging choices.

Image Information:

  • Date: 01/04/24
  • Time: 08:26 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R7
  • Lens: Canon RF 800mm F11
  • ISO: 1000
  • Aperture: 11 (Fixed)
  • Shutter: 1/1000
  • Exp. Comp.: -0.3
  • Lens (mm): 800
  • Program Mode: Manual