Should we help out hungry, thirsty deer?

Video putting water out for deer

DEAR JOAN: We are new to the area after living 40 years in Atherton. Our picture window looks out on a 5-acre parcel that once housed horses. We’ve been here for almost two months.

The local deer favor this place, and we have counted eight, including two mothers with fawns. Just a week ago, they left the field and stayed away for days. Last evening we only saw three.

What concerns me is how hungry they look and that the young ones only get to eat grass roots. The moms can reach tree leaves. There is a patch of tall grass across the field that all deer ignore. I know they love rose flowers, and no one grows roses up here for that reason. So what do they eat now that we are in our fourth year of drought?

I am very concerned and sad that they are maybe starving right before us. I would like to feed them, but that is messing with Mother Nature, plus I don’t know what they eat, except they chewed down some day lilies once.

On the upside, we have a covey of quail. I saw them in Atherton years ago, but they were long gone in my yard.

Marilyn Moyer

Emerald Hills

DEAR MARILYN: It is sad to see wildlife suffering in this drought, but it sounds like the deer are managing. It’s sort of a good thing that you don’t see a lot in a group. That would be a sign that food and water is so scarce, they are congregating around the only sources they can find.

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Deer are herbivores, meaning they eat a variety of vegetation and fruits.

It’s tempting to want to help them, and my tender heart often gets the better of my tougher brain. But as you say, it’s messing with the natural order and balance of nature. The problem with putting out food and water is that the deer will remember it and come back time after time. And they’ll bring friends with them. That will bring in other creatures, including predators.

The main predator of deer is the mountain lion, and if you encourage the deer to congregate in your yard, a mountain lion will have little trouble finding and killing them.

The mountain lion has to eat, too, but you probably don’t want to be the one who sets the table for it, nor would you want it hanging around your house.

Best to just enjoy the visits from the deer and quail.

DEAR JOAN: What should I do about a creature in my garden? It looks to be about the size of a medium rat. It has been in the yard for over a week; no sign of any other family or mom. It did not run from me, which seems a little scary.

Any help or ideas would be appreciated.

Chuck Kinsman


DEAR CHUCK: Your medium size rat is a young opossum.

Don’t be concerned that you are seeing it on its own. Baby opossums are weaned about four months after birth, and then they are pretty much on their own.

Opossums also are solitary creatures, so you likely only have the one visiting. They are known for pretending to faint when confronted, but they will sometimes stand their ground. That hissing and bared teeth can look worrisome, but they aren’t a threat to humans.

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Opossums are nomadic, so they don’t stay around long. Remove or restrict access to things that might be attracting it — pet food, fruit, water — and your friend will likely move on.

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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 >>