Deer have several natural predators that kill and eat them. These include canids, like wolves and coyotes; big cats, like cougars, jaguars and lynx; as well as bears, mountain lions, snakes, and alligators. Scavengers like vultures, raptors, foxes and corvids also eat deer too, and rely on them as carrion – i.e. they feast on the decaying bodies of dead deer.
As you can tell, there is no shortage of animals that prey on deer, which is why deer have evolved to become very good, highly skilled escape-artists, which is their first instinct when confronted with danger. When necessary, though, deer will stand their ground and fight.
Preying on Young vs Adult Deer
Most predators tend to target young or infirm deer such as fawns, but they will also kill and eat healthy adults of any size.
Bobcats, lynx, grizzly and American black bears, wolves, and packs of coyotes usually prey mainly on fawns, but bears also have the capability of taking down healthy, adult deer.
Coyotes, wolves, and lynxes, on the other hand, are more likely to prey on adult deer only when they are weakened, which can often be the case after harsh winter weather.
The Different Ways Predators Kill Deer
Most of these natural predators hunt deer by ambush, though canids often rely on their superior stamina by engaging in extended chases to exhaust the deer.
Let’s take a closer look at how these animals kill deer.
- Canids: Canids aim to bite at the limbs and flanks of deer to wound them. They can then get to and inflict damage onto deers’ vital organs that will eventually kill them through loss of blood
- Felids: Felids, like bobcats and jaguars, try to suffocate deer by biting their throat. Smaller cougars and jaguars may attempt to knock deer off-balance, while larger bobcats and lynxes will deliver a killing bite.
- Bears: When you’re as big as a bear, hunting doesn’t pose too much of a challenge. Bears take the simple approach of knocking down a deer and then begin eating it while it is still alive.
- Alligators: As thirsty deer try to drink from or cross bodies of water, alligators pounce by snatching deer and grabbing them with their powerful jaws, so they can drag them into the water to drown
How Do Deer Protect Themselves from Predators
A deer might have several natural predators, but they are pretty good at protecting themselves using a variety of strategies.
Evolutionary speaking, deer have evolved to have excellent hearing and very good eyesight so they can be aware of any predators in their environment.
Deer also have the ability to run very fast – up to 80 km/h in the case of whitetail deer, in fact – to escape predators when in danger, and can leap and spring in the blink of an eye too. Deer are also pretty good swimmers too, so will go through streams or other bodies of water to escape.
When deer are unable to escape, they have to stand their ground and fight. Fortunately, deer aren’t the completely defenseless and timid creatures that popular culture has made them out to be. While it might not be their first response, deer will stand and fight by using their most dangerous weapons, their antlers and hooves, which will inflict some damage onto predators at which point they can then escape.
Another protection mechanism that deer use is to take advantage of their numbers. Deer are smart enough to know that they are safer when traveling in large numbers compared to when they out on their own, which is why you often see deer travel in herds.
Deer also watch out for one another and alert other deer in the area of potential predators. They do this by breathing very heavily (known as blowing), which other deer can hear and then realize that danger is nearby. Additionally, as deer run, the flash of their white tails warns other deer.
How to Better Protect Deer From Predators
There are a few measures that you can take if you want to better protect deer, especially as controlling predators is so important in increasing fawn survival.
One of the simplest yet most effective ways is to increase grass cover. This provides more habitat for fawns to hide in.
Another popular method to protect deer is to control the predator population. So if coyotes are the main problem – and they almost always are – you can either start hunting them or trapping and killing them.
The problem with killing predators, though, is that either the population will quickly grow again, or new predators will come in and take their place. Non-lethal deterrence measures might therefore be the better choice, which can include the use of electric fencing, guard dogs, or light and noise repellants.