Whether you grow your own pumpkins and have a thief nibbling on your crop, or your family jack-o-lantern is missing part of his head, it’s natural to wonder who is to blame. You suspect several animals as potential culprits, but the local deer herd tops the list. Are your suspicions correct? Do deer eat pumpkins?
Yes, deer certainly do eat pumpkins, and they are a pretty healthy food for deer.
In today’s article we’ll cover everything there is t know about this topic. Here’s an overview of what you’ll learn here:
- Do deer eat fresh pumpkins?
- Why do deer eat gourds, pumpkins, and squash?
- What animals will eat your pumpkins?
- How to keep deer from eating pumpkins on your porch
- Should you leave pumpkins out for wildlife?
Do Deer Eat Fresh Pumpkins?
Deer certainly enjoy eating fresh pumpkins. Deer are herbivores, so their diet is primarily comprised of vegetation and fruits.
But they prefer eating certain parts of the pumpkin over others. Their favorite parts are the seeds, the insides of the pumpkin, and the soft portion of the rind. They will also nibble on the pumpkin’s flowers and leaves.
However, the seasons affect deer feeding preferences. During the summer, they prefer eating the leaves, while in the fall, they eat the soft and spongy inside of the pumpkin.
Why Do Deer Eat Gourds, Pumpkins, and Squash?
Gourds, pumpkins, and squash are all part of the Cucurbitaceae family. There are differences between these plants, though.
Gourds share many characteristics with both pumpkins and squashes, including the hard shell and variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.
However, most gourd varieties are used only for decoration because they are too small, there is little flesh inside the shell, and they take longer to cook.
If you want to eat gourds, you should consume them before they ripen. Ripened gourds taste bitter and their shells are tougher to cut open than young gourds.
Edible gourds, like the bottle gourd, are a rich source of calcium and vitamins C and K.
The major feature that sets the squash apart from gourds is that they are edible. Typically, squash is the general term used for the fruits belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, so you can call a pumpkin a squash.
There are two subcategories of squashes: the summer squashes and the winter squashes.
Summer squashes, like the green and yellow zucchini and pattypan squash, have soft rinds.
Winter squashes, such as the butternut squash and acorn squash, have hard shells.
Pumpkins are suitable both for decorative and culinary purposes. As well as jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkins can be used to make pies, dips, bread, soups, and other dishes.
Unlike many varieties of squash, pumpkins have a short and stiff stem.
In the fall, deer would eat gourds, pumpkins, and squash because they are an excellent source of nutrients and energy that can help them survive the cold weather.
Meanwhile, pumpkins are high in potassium, fatty acids, and vitamins A and E. The squash fruit is rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, and potassium, while its seeds are rich in protein and fiber.
Deer sometimes have difficulty eating the hard shell of gourds, pumpkins, or squash, so they might crack them open with their hooves or antlers.
Then they’d happily devour the soft interior and the seeds. These fruits also have edible leaves and flowers, so deer may munch on those, but they tend to dislike leaves that feel “hairy” on the tongue, so the foliage of some pumpkin varieties are safe.
What Animals May Eat Your Pumpkins?
There are viral videos that show deer eating pumpkins on porches and in yards. But pumpkins are also attractive to other wildlife, including foxes, badgers, and squirrels.
Farm animals, like cows, horses, and pigs, also enjoy munching on pumpkins.
Pumpkins also attract insects such as ants, aphids, snails, and butterflies. If you have a dog, cat, or rabbit at home, you might also find them nibbling on carved pumpkins.
How to Keep Deer From Eating Pumpkins Off Your Porch
Pumpkins may not be at the top of a deer’s list of favorite foods, but deer won’t hesitate to eat them if they’re hungry enough.
Whether you have a pumpkin patch in your backyard or want to stop deer from eating the family jack-o’-lantern right off your front porch during the Halloween season, there are ways to deter these animals.
Fence off your property.
Surrounding your home with a fence, whether it’s a privacy fence, mesh netting, or hedge shrub can discourage deer from entering your property. Just make sure that the fence is high enough to keep deer out.
Deer can jump high, up to eight feet (and sometimes even higher). Make sure your fence is taller than that.
Scare them off with motion-activated lights or sprinklers.
Sprinklers that automatically spray water or porch lights that turn on or produce sound when they detect movement could surprise deer and drive them away.
These devices could also be effective in scaring off other pests and animals like squirrels and raccoons.
Spray the pumpkins with commercial animal repellents.
Deer deterrent sprays can prevent neighborhood pests like deer from nibbling at your pumpkins because they have an unappealing taste and scent to deer. However, the scent can wear off over time (especially if it rains), so spray them routinely.
Use natural odor deterrents.
You can place soap bars or sprinkle soap shavings on the ground or hang them in strings near your pumpkin decoration.
Deer don’t like the fragrance of the soap because it messes with their sense of smell, which can put them at a disadvantage when detecting prey.
Spraying pumpkins with homemade deterrents that contain chili pepper, rotten eggs, or garlic oil is also effective in discouraging deer from eating pumpkins. Placing vinegar or eucalyptus oil near the pumpkins could also turn deer away.
Use pet fur or human hair.
Wrap pet fur or human hair clippings in a thin cloth, sock, or stocking, and then place them at the base of the pumpkin.
When deer smell the scent, they’ll think that there are dogs, cats, or humans nearby. This will discourage them from coming closer to your pumpkin.
Should You Leave Pumpkins Out for Wildlife?
Pumpkins are edible for deer and many animals. But you might be wondering if it’s safe to leave pumpkins out for wildlife to consume, especially when you have leftover pumpkins from harvest season or you want to recycle carved pumpkin decorations and jack-o-lanterns after Halloween.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to feed wildlife with pumpkins:
Know local wildlife laws.
In the United States, states like New York, California, and Colorado, prohibit feeding wildlife in public spaces. This includes deer, bears, and moose.
It’s best to do research or consult with authorities before you leave pumpkins out for wild animals to eat. That will help you avoid legal trouble.
Turn discarded pumpkins into birdfeeders.
Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the fleshy interior, and use the bottom shell as a container for dried seeds. Birds and other animals like squirrels and rabbits can eat the seeds.
Cut the pumpkin into pieces and scatter them in your yard.
Feeding deer from your backyard is generally not encouraged, but doing it once a year to reduce household waste is a good deed for Mother Nature.
Place the cut-up pieces in an area where you can easily see the animals that are feeding on them, but far enough from other vegetation or your house.
However, proceed with caution as it could attract other large animals, like bears or undesirable wildlife (like rats).
Remove inedible parts before feeding.
Never feed rotten pumpkins to wildlife. You can tell a pumpkin is rotten if it has squishy flesh, an unpleasant odor, or the shell has discolored or moldy spots.
If any of these characteristics are present, the pumpkin is dangerous to eat.
Also, don’t use painted pumpkins, gourds, or squash for feeding as they may contain toxic chemicals that can harm wildlife if consumed.
Deer Do Eat Pumpkins
As we’ve learned here, deer certainly have no hesitation about eating pumpkins. They especially enjoy the seeds and soft inner parts, as well as soft parts of the rind.
But in most cases, we don’t want deer to eat our pumpkins.
You might have a pumpkin patch or just a jack-o’-lantern, and you’re eager to keep deer away. We’ve given you information here to help you protect your pumpkins from being raided by the local cervids.
Of course, pumpkins aren’t the only things on the deer menu. Learn more about the deer’s varied diet here.