December 20, 2011

How Tall Are Your Deer?

My deer are four feet three inches.  I know because they leave a browse line, nibbling everything up to exactly 4' 3" above the ground.

The birds never eat the berries on my winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite'), but the deer do.  Like clockwork, the herds check their calendars and when it says November 15, they send the word out -- "Winterberrries are ready.  They're ripe now.  Let's go eat."

And they arrange to meet in my garden and have a hollyberry party.
Apparently winterberry fruits are not yet ripe in early fall.  No wildlife touches them at this stage.

These are ripe.  Every berry below this level has been eaten by Thanksgiving.

Ilex verticillata stripped bare except for the topmost berries.

Those last uneaten berries at the top of the shrub stay there all winter.  You'd think the birds would at least eat what the deer leave, but they don't.  There must be a territory issue, with the birds respectfully leaving the hollies untouched for the deer herds, or maybe after the initial feasting, the berries go stale later in the season.  Who knows what rules are followed out there, I am only the gardener. 

You'd also think when the deer are starving in winter they would come back for those remaining fruits, and stretch a little to get what is just inches above their browse height. 

They're not that far out of reach, but my deer don't make the effort to get anything above four feet three inches, so the berries hang on. 

Maybe late in the season those top winterberries are like the sludge at the bottom of your cereal bowl.  Just not that appetizing after a while.


  1. Isn't that just the darndest thing?? Don't they just do some stuff to make you so mad??? GRRRR!!! Your deer must be really well fed. I have looked for Red Sprite forever, as it is a pollinator.
    Plus, it's gorgeous! They were mentioning here that they might expand deer season as they are wiping out native flowers in our forest preserves.

  2. Laurrie, I've never measured my browse line but I will soon. I'd be interested to see how it compares to yours. It is so frustrating to see how quickly they can ravage a garden. At least they've eft you a few berries to ponder over during the winter.

  3. What an interesting observation. We don't have deer in our garden. The back is fenced and Luna would run them off. I haven't seen a deer around here in a long time. They keep building close to our place and there is room for them in the country. I have this holly too. The birds don't eat the berries until they are frozen and thawed several times. I guess this process makes them more tasty.

  4. I think it is funny that you measured how high the deer eat on the winterberry. When you get a few feet of hardpacked snow, the berries will be history.

  5. Sissy, Jim Dandy is the pollinator for Red Sprite, although other hollies cross too. I wish we had a deer season for hunters around here!

    Debbiew, I don;t mind the deer eating the berries, at least they leave the plant alone so it can grow.

    Lisa, Most people say it is the birds who eat the winterberries, not the deer, like you see in your garden, but here the birds never touch them.

    Donna, I measured because it looked so strange! Why not reach up a few inches and finish them off?? There are four winterberry hollies in my garden and they all have this little line of red berries left at the very top. So odd.

  6. I've always wondered why all deer (aka hooved rats) seem to eat only in their line of sight. Lazy? Inflexible necks? Stupid? All of the above?

    Birds, on the other hand, apparently differ from place to place. Yours don't eat your winterberry, while mine treat that shrub as party-central, right down to the last berry.

  7. Deer can be such pests sometimes... We hope you are able to enjoy your berry's, if not perhaps you can get someone to give you some fresh venison to try!

  8. Perhaps I am giving them too much credit, but I have to wonder if they leave some berries on purpose. Maybe some instinct tells them that there will be more winterberry bushes if they leave some berries behind to seed. Merry Christmas Laurrie and best wishes for 2012!

  9. Is it just me or does 4 foot 3 inches seem a bit short for a deer? They always seem much larger to me. I'm really surprised that they don't stretch out for those top berries, when we lived in deer country even my hanging baskets weren't off limits to hungry deer.

  10. I was thinking the same thing as Jennifer. It is the same story with the bunnies...they eat just about everything, leaving one little sprout to survive a hellacious drought. Amazingly, some survive only to be nibbled down to nubbins again. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Laurrie! Warm hugs from Austin!

  11. Lee, that's so interesting, that your winterberries are bird candy and mine are not. Different populations, even nearby, behave in their own ways I guess.

    Venison, I do wish we had hunting in this area, or some way to control an out of proportion herd.

    Jennifer, you think? The deer plan ahead and leave some fruits? Oh my, you'd have to see how dumb and confused my deer are : )

    Marguerite, It always surprises me how small the deer are when I get up close to them. Really like big dogs, at least the females. And the fawns in early summer are just tiny things on spindles for legs.

    Cat, Ha! My bunnies eat plants to the ground, no apologies. The only good thing is that they can't reach very high!

  12. I've not measured the browse line here but my winterberry look the same. Leaves below the browse line don't get a chance to establish on these shrubs, either. Sigh ... but I keep the winterberry I have and will plant more. I just love the berries in winter.

    Most years the shrubs hold unbrowsed berries till spring. Sometimes bluebirds devour them, sometimes not. It's always different and I've not yet tried to figure out why.

  13. They must be well fed to be so picky! My drumstick alliums have started sprouting in our warm winter weather. At least now I have proof that the squirrels didn't get them all. When do yours usually start growing?

  14. Joene, it's funny, but the deer do not browse the leaves of the winterberries, just the berries themselves. So my hollies grow well, I just don't have much of a berry display in winter.

    Tammy, my drumstick alliums sprout fresh green growth in the fall and winter, but no flower stalks. Then in late spring and summer the delicate tall wands appear and they bloom. (These are not spring bloomers like other onions, they come out around 4th of July here, in time to drum in the parades!)

  15. I think it's so interesting that everyone posts about how much of a pest deer are and how destructive they are, and yet no one mentions that we're living in their habitat and that we should enjoy their quiet beauty and the nature that we're surrounded in before we're enclosed by concrete and strip-malls.


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