Deer. Beautiful and graceful woodland creatures, or backyard menace? It all depends on who you talk to. If deer are frequent visitors to your yard, you may be frustrated trying to keep them from eating all your bird food. Let’s talk about why deer can be so problematic, and how to keep deer away from bird feeders.
The problem with deer
Why are some people so unhappy about seeing deer in their yards? One of the main reasons is they are eating machines. Acorns, fruit, berries, vegetables, grasses, buds, new blooms, flowers, young leaves…they are known to graze and wipe out a wide variety of garden and landscape plants, shrubs and trees – and trample flower beds in the process.
They can also empty out a bird feeder quickly, costing you extra money in bird seed and perhaps even damage to your feeders. All this eating inevitably leads to pooping, which they can also do all over your yard. Nobody wants to go out and pick up deer droppings, or have them in the yard where kids and pets might be playing.
Deer can carry parasites such as ticks, fleas and lice. If they spend a lot of time in your yard, they can increase the occurrence of these undesirables which can be harmful to you and your pets.
Deer can also do significant damage to your bird feeders. They may knock down poles or rip feeders down trying to gain access. They also have strong teeth and may chew through plastic and wire mesh to get into feeders.
Now that we know why some people don’t find them to be so charming, how can we keep deer away from our bird feeders?
How to keep deer away from bird feeders
1. Offer food deer don’t like
Deer eat a wide variety, but there are still types of birdseed that they may find unappealing. Safflower seed and Nyjer (Thistle) seed taste bitter to most mammals, thus are not particularly appetizing to deer (or squirrels). If there is other food nearby to munch on, they may not bother with these bitter seeds. However, even though these may not be a favorite, if the animals are hungry enough, they likely won’t turn down a free meal.
Also, seeds coated with hot pepper oils will be too spicy for the deer’s taste buds, but will not bother the birds. You can buy birdseed and suet made specially with hot pepper. This will also deter other pests such as squirrels. Birds are not sensitive to the spicy capsaicin molecules, but mammals such as squirrels and deer will find the burning sensation hard to take!
2. Keep feeders out of reach
Deer are tall and can reach quite far with their long necks. They may even hop up on their hind legs. Using a very tall bird feeder pole at least 7-8 feet off the ground, can help a lot to keep food out of their reach.
A tall pole that gets really good reviews on Amazon is the Super Tall Decorative Trio Hanger by Erva. You can use a step stool or shepherds hook to bring feeders down for refilling.
3. Periodically take down your feeders
If you notice deer frequenting your yard and paying special attention to your feeders, try taking them down for a period of time. After awhile the deer will give up if nothing is there to munch on. Once they have stopped coming to your yard, you can put the feeders back out.
If you haven’t spotted any deer during the day but suspect they may be emptying your feeders, they could be coming at night. Try taking down your feeders at night and put them back out in the morning. Deer are nervous around people and might be more prone to visit your yard and raid the feeders at night when people aren’t around.
4. Keep feeder areas clean
Having a pile of seeds on the ground under your bird feeders is a welcome invitation to grazing deer. It would only be a matter of time before they eat everything off the ground and looked up to get more from the feeders. By keeping seed off the ground, you won’t be drawing attention to your feeders as a potential food source.
One way to minimize spilt seed and piles of shells is to use de-shelled seeds or “hearts”. Many brands make a no-shell mix (such as the Lyric Fine Tunes No Waste Mix). Birds have nothing to discard and toss, leaving much less mess.
You can also find many different types of seed catchers designed to sit beneath bird feeders and catch whatever falls. Some like the Seed Buster Seed Tray & Catcher by Brome attach to the feeder pole itself. Others like the Songbird Essentials SeedHoop Seed Catcher are made to hang below an individual bird feeder.
With any type of seed catcher, I would still suggest making sure the feeder, and therefore the catcher, is up fairly high, or else the seed catcher might just act as a feeding tray to a hungry deer!
5. Store seed supply securely
If you store your birdseed outside, make sure it is kept in a garage, locked shed, locked box or other secure area that deer will not be able to penetrate. They can sniff out and chew through bags that are left out, or knock over unsecured containers.
6. Have a deer deterring yard
Still having trouble? Typically a deer will find a bird feeder after it has already been snooping around your yard, sniffing at plants and looking for other food sources. If you can make your yard unattractive to deer in the first place, they may never get close enough to find your feeders.
Unfortunately though, deer are attracted to many of the same things that the birds you like to attract are so this one could prove tricky.
7. Unpleasant odors
Deer have very sensitive noses, and there are certain smells that they dislike, or are suspicious of. Here are some smells that have worked for people in keeping deer away. Your mileage may vary on these though as some deer may be bothered by these, while others aren’t.
- Strong smelling soaps such as Irish Spring (hang or place chunks of the bar soap in problem areas)
- Human Hair (hang a nylon stocking stuffed with hair in problem areas)
- Herbs like garlic, chives, lavender and catmint
- Professional Grade Repellents such as Deer Scram
8. Unappetizing plants
Deer will nibble on almost anything, but you can choose to plant some less desirable options. Deer will often not be interested in juniper, spruces, pines, firs, black walnut, maple or mulberry trees. Some other more thorny and less edible plants that deer have a tendency to avoid are holly, roses, lupines, columbine, sage and echinacea.
You can ask around at your local garden shop and they will likely be able to give you some good options for plants that grow well in your area that deer aren’t fond of.
One step further from choosing specific plants in your landscaping is varying your terrain. Deer don’t like to climb steep areas. If you can add in terraces or sunken beds to give your yard some levels rather than an easy flat plain, deer may choose not to bother navigating your space.
9. Wide open spaces
Deer feel more comfortable when they have cover from predators. They much prefer to stay in wooded areas, and you may see them hurrying through very exposed open areas. Therefore if your yard has areas of very tall grass, unkempt meadow, or thick patches of shrubs it may give them a tempting area to sleep for the night or rest during the day.
If you keep your yard trimmed down and free from overgrowth, the deer won’t be able to find a cozy place to hang out and may be less inclined to stick around. In this case, less is more.
10. A good fence
Putting up a fence around your yard may seem like an obvious solution. However deer can jump quite high (up to 8 feet). A tall fence might be enough to keep them away, but the effectiveness of this will likely vary greatly. If the deer are hungry and curious enough about your yard, a fence may not keep them out. If you are going to go this route I recommend doing some Google searching first on deer-proof fences.
There are a lot of good tips out there, such as planting shrub rows around fences, and choosing fences that extend fully to the ground and do not have gaps the deer can see through into your yard.
11. Scare tactics
Sometimes for really persistent problems, frightening the deer and making them think your yard is unsafe is the best deterrent. You can get creative here such as walking outside with a tin can full of pennies and shaking it loudly, or you can look at the next item on this list for something motion activated.
12. Motion activated deterrents
Deer are startled by sudden movement and sound. Motion activated flood lights, alarms and sprinklers can all be utilized. Many people feel the motion activated sprinkler is the best option, as you can purchase ones that will detect movement and will startle the animal with a blast of water that is harmless. A popular model is the Orbit Yard Enforcer. This has an infra-red sensor that detects motion day and night, and the option to connect additional sprinkler heads to cover wide areas.
13. A dog
Have dogs? Chances are good that a dog will bark at an approaching deer, and the deer will turn tail and run. If this encounter happens enough times the deer may learn to avoid your yard altogether. If you notice deer in the neighborhood, letting your dog patrol the yard could keep them away from your house. Then again you may have a dog that’s too friendly for that.
When it comes to deterring deer, there is no one “right way” that will work for everyone. A little trial and error with one or more of these methods should help you to keep deer away from your bird feeders. Whatever methods you choose, please keep it humane and don’t resort to drastic, harmful measures. Deer are wild creatures just looking for food to survive, like your beloved birds. If you are persistent in trying different non-harmful methods, you are sure to find the right combination that works for you.
*Cover / header photo by Larry Lamsa on Flickr