Creature Thoughts, March-April 2022: Dear Dear Deer

A fuzzy yearling fawn from several years ago.

I don’t mean to feed the deer. I know it’s not legal to do so. In fact, it’s illegal in my state (and many others) to feed any wildlife other than the birds. However, the deer (and the squirrels and the chipmunks and the occasional raccoon, saints preserve us) have minds of their own.

I had no sooner put the seed out for the birdies this morning, when I turned to see three large does helping themselves to my feeders.

The deer haven’t just eaten the seeds. At times, they’ve torn down entire feeders, breaking the cables that hung them, to get to more of the food. (They also dive into my veggie garden, nibble my baby daylily plants to the roots, and eat the tender new buds before they can bloom…but that’s another story.)

Today, I stepped back out onto the front porch with the intent to ask them to leave. They trotted to the edge of the yard, but before crossing the road, turned to look at me.

“You do know you aren’t birds, right? And the stuff you’re eating is bird food.”

We’re hungry.

“There’s plenty of grass starting to turn green now, and I’m sure buds are beginning to show on at least some of the bushes in the forest.

We’re very hungry. The seeds are richer.

I hadn’t really expected to get such clear responses, honestly. Deer aren’t normally all that chatty with me (not that three brief sentences constitute much of a conversation). I mostly get little blasts of emotion as they flick their flags at me and trot haughtily into the woods–when they decide to notice me at all, that is.

Then, one doe turned so that I saw her at a different angle. Her coat, I realized, was scruffy where the winter covering was coming out in little clumps, revealing the dark, smooth summerwear beneath. I saw that what I was looking at, however, may not all have been caused by the lights and shadows playing in a changing coat. Was I looking at ribs?

She shifted again, and I thought I could make out the tips of her hipbones.

The winter hadn’t been overly snowy (not so far, though here in upstate New York, it will be May before we can stop worrying about that). It had been strange, though. Odd blasts of arctic cold, days on end of high winds, the occasional snow and ice storm thrown in for good measure. Recently, we’ve had warm spells for a bit, and then Ma Nature would throw a bit of a tantrum and hit us again with a stretch of January. The groundhog may have been yanked out of his Pennsylvania burrow in early February, but I never saw one around here till just the other day.

The deer haven’t fared well.

“Okay,” I told them, “I get the message. I’ll put more birdseed on the shopping list. Just, please…don’t eat my daylilies.”

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