Do Deer Eat Meat?  The Truth About Their Diet

Do Whitetail Deer Ever Eat Meat?

Deer are often thought of as herbivores, but there are some instances where they have been known to eat meat.  There have even been multiple wildlife research studies that utilized trail cameras to monitor wildlife.  Even though they were targeting other research they happened to catch deer eating other animals (which were often already dead).  

Most images and video show deer eating meat from animals that are already dead.   It is very rare for them to eat an animal that is alive. However, the following video even shows a buck eating a small bird that was having trouble getting off the ground to fly away from it.  (Viewer discretion advised)

The question of whether or not deer eat meat has been debated for decades, with some people claiming that they do and others insisting that they don't. The remainder of the  article will dive deeper into whether or not deer like to eat meat.

According to biologists, deer are not carnivorous animals, and their primary diet consists of plant-based foods. However, there have been instances where deer have been observed consuming meat, particularly during periods of food scarcity. Deer may consume small animals such as birds, rabbits, and squirrels, but this behavior is not common and is typically only seen when other food sources are scarce.

Despite the occasional consumption of meat, deer are still classified as herbivores, and their digestive systems are not designed to process meat efficiently. While they may eat meat in rare circumstances, it is not a significant part of their diet. Understanding the feeding habits of deer is crucial for managing and hunting them effectively, and knowing what they eat can help ensure their survival in the wild.

Deer Diet

Deer are primarily herbivores, meaning they consume plant-based foods. They are known for their selective feeding habits, and they have a keen sense of smell that helps them identify the most palatable foods. According to Deer Association, deer have a unique set of utensils that assist them with their feeding habits. Their eyes are set back from their mouth, which allows them to see what they are eating and assists with selectivity. Their sense of smell is acute enough that they can identify foods that are most palatable, as well as those that contain toxins before even tasting it.

Deer consume a wide range of plant species, but the majority of their diet comes from a relatively small number of forages. According to Mississippi State University, although deer consumed over 140 plant species in one study, about a third of those species accounted for 93 percent of the overall diet. Some of the most common foods that deer eat include:

  • Grasses
  • Forbs (broad-leaved herbaceous plants)
  • Browse (leaves, twigs, and woody stems of trees and shrubs)
  • Agricultural crops (such as corn, soybeans, and alfalfa)

While deer are primarily herbivores, there have been cases of deer eating meat. According to Deer Habits, there have been instances where deer have been observed eating both human flesh and bones. However, these cases are rare, and it is not a common occurrence for deer to eat meat. It's important to note that deer are not designed to be carnivores, and their digestive system is not equipped to handle large amounts of meat.  You can learn more about what deer eat during the summer and early fall here. 

Deer Anatomy

Deer are herbivores, but they have been known to eat meat in rare cases. Understanding the anatomy of deer can help explain why they are primarily herbivorous.


Deer have a unique set of teeth that are adapted to their herbivorous diet. Their front teeth, or incisors, are used for biting off vegetation. Their back teeth, or molars, are used for grinding and chewing plants. Unlike carnivores, deer do not have sharp canine teeth for tearing flesh.

Digestive System

Deer have a four-chambered stomach that is adapted to digesting cellulose, a tough plant material that is difficult to break down. 

Deer are able to extract nutrients from plants that other animals cannot, thanks to their specialized digestive system. However, this also means that they cannot digest meat as effectively as carnivores can. While there have been rare cases of deer eating meat, it is not a common occurrence and is not a significant part of their diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if a deer eats meat?

Deer are not designed to digest meat, so consuming too much of it can cause digestive issues and potential health problems. However, occasional consumption of small amounts of meat is unlikely to cause any harm.

Will deer eat other animals?

Deer are not natural predators and do not typically hunt or actively seek out other animals to eat. They are more likely to consume meat if it is readily available and they are in need of nutrients.

Do deer eat rabbits?

Rabbits are a common prey for many predators, but deer are not typically one of them. While deer have been known to consume small animals like birds, rabbits are not a common part of their diet.

Do deer eat birds?

Deer have been observed consuming small birds and eggs from bird nests in times of low availability of plant-based nutrients. However, this is not a common occurrence and deer are not natural predators of birds.

Are deer herbivores or carnivores?

Deer are primarily herbivores, meaning they primarily consume plants and vegetation. However, they have been known to consume small amounts of meat on occasion. Overall, deer are considered to be herbivores.

Do Deer Like Cooked Meat Like Steak?

This article was updated on June 15, 2023