Do Deer Eat Meat? The Answer Might Just Surprise You!


Deer are herbivores. At least that’s what we know and have been informed.

But there have been several reports of deer eating meat and even human bones. So it often gets people wondering, do deer eat meat in their lifetime? Science has the answer for you.

Contrary to what most people believe, deer do eat meat. They possess flesh-eating tendencies and will expose them from time to time. They can consume a wide range of animals including birds and their eggs. So if you’re curious, it’s worth looking into their strange diet. In this article, find out more about why a deer may consume meat.

Deer do not only eat plants and leaves; they are also fruit lovers. So why not read do deer eat pumpkins and do deer eat apples next.

Can deer consume meat?

For the most part, deer are herbivores. They survive by eating leaves, twigs, grass, fruits, and a variety of nuts.

Nearly all deer breeds including the whitetail and elk live on a plant-rich diet. But the thing is they’re not a ‘strict herbivore.’ Interestingly, many animals considered as strict herbivores are actually not. They are omnivorous. This means they can swallow both plants and animals as food. Many researchers claim a deer is an omnivore and hence can consume meat. Deer of various species have been seen preying on smaller animals for food. Not only live animals, but verified reports also exist of deer eating the flesh of a dead animal at times, even of their own species. This gets people baffled as to how an animal that feeds on plants can turn to meat.

Researchers believe this behavior is driven by need rather than taste. Every living creature requires a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals and protein to survive. When there’s a lack of it, the strict herbivores can turn to other animals as a source for fulfillment. In the case of deer, the meat-eating behavior seems to be specifically for a deficiency of calcium. That’s because they mostly devour bones. As you might know, bones are high in calcium. In certain parts of the world, deer have been spotted eating human remains, more specifically the bones, which remain after the flesh is gone.

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Many herbivores learn accidentally that they can eat meat. So, they start to occasionally eat other animals as and when the opportunity comes. Deer don’t eat meat because they need to, per se, but because they can. There is little evidence that deer anatomy or physiology is suited for eating meat.

How much meat can a deer eat in a day?

Even if deer can eat meat, they are not carnivores. Their digestive system isn’t designed to process meat. In most cases, they stick to a plant-based diet. So they are occasional meat-eaters.

It’s hard to know how much meat a deer can eat in a day because a large-scale experiment hasn’t been done yet. To guess, we need to look at how much food deer actually consume in their day. During the summer season, there’s foliage and plenty of food available, deer can eat 6-8% of their own body weight. So for a deer weighing 150 lb (68 kg), that’s 9-12 lb (4-5.4 kg) per day. They are hyperactive during the summer and hence consume a lot of plants. In the winter months, their food intake (and their activity) drops.

As already said, deer do not need meat for survival. They eat it to prevent a calcium deficiency or simply because they can. So even if they consume meat, it’s going to be ounces. The larger deer may consume a bit more but it’s still going to be in ounces. The amount might be higher when there’s a food scarcity and the deer are running low on energy. In such cases, a deer could consume up to a pound of meat if its body demands it. But in all likelihood, they will most probably not devour a fully-grown wild buffalo or giraffe. Even if they come across a dead one, deer may only cherry-pick the bones and move on.

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Deer eating leaves

(Deer can eat up to 10 lb (4.5 kg) per day, but meat consumption is significantly lower.)

What kind of meat do deer eat?

Because deer live in the wild and are not documented enough, it’s not clear if they can intake all kinds of meat. But they have been documented eating the meat of certain species.

First, deer have been spotted at ritual sites where humans or other animals are buried. They either get attracted by scent or out of curiosity. Then, they’ve been seen chewing human bones. So it isn’t clear whether they consume human flesh or only bones. Deer have also been observed consuming the meat of dead squirrels, small mammals, and insects. Unlike carnivores, deer do not go hunting. But rather pounce on the opportunity when an animal comes nearby. They will even inspect the dead meat and consume it if necessary.

Some people have offered cooked meat like steak to deer and yes, these herbivores seemed to enjoy it and crammed it down. It’s important to note that not all deer will consume all kinds of meat. Some may not give any attention to meat at all. So it varies from deer to deer.

Will deer eat birds?

Deer are not hunters and haven’t been seen laying traps for birds or climbing up trees to catch them. However, researchers have found deer feeding on birds and eggs.

To check which animal was most attracted to the nest of songbirds, the researchers set up ‘nest cams’. They expected squirrels, foxes, and some other meat-loving predators to come more frequently than others. To their surprise, it was deer who were the frequent visitors. They came in packs and inspected the area. Then, some of the deer started eating the nestlings and the eggs in the nests. They ate the chicks alive. So you could say that deer can eat a bird if they come by one, not by climbing trees but by finding those that are on the ground. Again, this would depend on the species. A whitetail deer may consume eggs and meat while an elk may not, or the other way around. This meat-eating behavior is also influenced by their living conditions. Herbivores can turn into omnivores when there’s a food scarcity and become meat-eaters.

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Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for ‘Do deer eat meat?’, then why not take a look at ‘Do all mammals have hair? Knowing interesting animal body facts for kids!’ or ‘What is the moon made of? Solar system facts that curious kids will love’.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>