Do Deer Eat Hickory Nuts?


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Deer are famous for chowing down on pretty much anything they can find in the wild. They’ll normally head towards fallen fruit and berries, acorns, and even the occasional weed. But do deer eat hickory nuts in the wild or when attracted to gardens and yards?

Deer will happily eat hickory nuts – however, they will normally prefer other kinds of nuts if they are available. There’s no harm in putting hickory nuts out if you want to attract deer to your yard – but they might not be your best food resource.

Why don’t deer like hickory nuts?

It’s mostly to do with the hard shell. Deer can be choosy when eating difficult or particularly crunchy items in their local habitats. For example, deer won’t normally eat walnuts for the same reason. If nuts are tough to crack, deer will generally pass up the opportunity.

Hickory nuts also don’t smell or taste as alluring to deer as other wild foods. Just as you and I have taste preferences, so do certain deer!

Therefore, if you do wish to use hickory nuts in your feeding plot, it’s best to crack them open first. That said, it’s likely even better to simply serve nuts that deer are more attracted to.

What is a deer’s favorite nut? 

Deer love many kinds of nuts, though they particularly love acorns and beechnuts. Acorns, in particular, are great for deer as they do not have to worry about having to de-shell them – they can easily eat them as-is, and they are readily found on forests floors in large quantities.

Deer love to eat pecans, too, and will occasionally eat hickory nuts when they have to. Regardless of the nuts they choose to snack on, they all form an essential part of their diet. That’s because nuts are generally full of healthy fats – great for bulking up in colder months – and what’s more, nuts can help deer feel fuller, for longer periods. The science actually applies to humans, too.

This is particularly important for them in the fall and early winter when they are getting used to food being scarce. Deer dietary behaviors change across the year – what a deer eats in summer might be different from their end-of-year feasting, for example – but nuts tend to be great for deer across the seasons.

Now we know that deer are unlikely to be the animals clearing away your hickory nuts – who’s responsible?

What animal eats hickory nuts? 

Some of the most common animals who enjoy eating hickory nuts include squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, foxes, and raccoons. They are a great source of nutrition for them as they are high in protein and various minerals. As mentioned, they are also rich in healthy fat, which mammals will normally look for as winter rolls around. 

What foods can I use to attract deer? 

Consider putting out a variety of fresh fruit – deer love oranges, for example – and letting your weeds grow a little. While deer won’t munch on grass very often, leaving your lawn to grow might encourage a few visitors in search of greener snacks.

If you want to attract deer to your garden, hickory trees may not be the best way to go. Trees deer love include the classic oak – they are easy to grow and will bring plenty of wildlife to your garden, such as squirrels and a variety of birds. However, it’ll take some time for an oak to grow to full size, so be patient. 

When fully grown, oak trees will – of course – drop acorns. Acorns tend to be high up on the average deer’s list of preferred treats. With an oak tree in place, you’ll provide great cover for your deer and will also grant them some free food.

When you let your grass grow high, do also consider placing piles of twigs or logs around your garden so that deer have somewhere to hide when they need to. If they are in an open space, they will not stay for long as they can feel vulnerable. 

However, it is important to note that you should – where possible – not feed deer in the winter. Tampering with deer diets as colder temperatures set in can cause detriment to their digestive systems. They are famously sensitive!

Above all, do check that it’s legal to feed deer in your state – otherwise, you could be breaking the law without meaning to.

Will hickory nuts repel deer?

No – leaving hickory nuts out in your garden won’t stop deer from visiting. However, it’s worth growing hickory trees over oak trees if you want to lower your chances of a visit.

By exclusively growing plants deer have no interest in – deer won’t eat coleus, for example – you may stand a chance of keeping them away. However, there are no surefire ways to deter deer unless you use a natural repellent, such as one made with urine.

Otherwise, hickory nuts can make a good, occasional deer treat – but they won’t go crazy for them unless they are starving.

About The Author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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