Wednesday, September 28, 2022
HomeLivestockBehaviorDeer and Cattle Eat Rabbits

Deer and Cattle Eat Rabbits

Birds aren't the only creatures deer might eat. Here one dines on a bunny.
Birds aren’t the only creatures deer might eat. Here one dines on a bunny.

For years, visitors to the Scottish island of Rum were puzzled to find the bodies of Manx shearwater chicks missing their heads, wingbones and leg bones.  Then a few years ago, a hunter saw a red deer chewing on a chick.  Scientists used that sighting to give them clues, and now it seems clear that the deer are eating parts of the chicks to give them the calcium they need to grow strong antlers.

This isn’t the only instance of supposed vegetarians eating meat.  There are bird-eating sheep in the Shetland islands. In the U.S. the miniature video cameras biologists use to monitor nests are revealing that weasels, mice, ground squirrels, and white tail deer eat both eggs and birds.  Canadian bird researchers capturing songbirds in mist nets were astonished to see deer eating the birds right out of the nets.

This steer was part of a trial to see the effects of grazing on phosphorous deficient soils. The herd decided to solve the problem by eating dead rabbits found in the pasture for the phosphorous in their bones.
This steer was part of a trial to see the effects of grazing on phosphorous deficient soils. The herd decided to solve the problem by eating dead rabbits found in the pasture for the phosphorous in their bones.

It all makes sense when we think about how animals choose what to eat.  When they experience a deficiency, such as calcium or phosphorous, animals experiment with new foods.  If they find something that solves the problem, they continue to eat it.  Both eggs and nestlings are good sources of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals and they’re just right for a grazer who’s missing a little something in its diet.

So, how concerned should we be about the impact of omnivorous herbivores?  It seems that they aren’t eating enough birds or eggs to harm the population. Wyoming Game and Fish chief biologist Reg Rothwell says, “It’s not a huge problem, and it’s probably been going on for eons.”

 

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Vothhttps://onpasture.com
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for the great newsletter.
    Just a quick heads up, your videos do not operate on an iPad which is considered a mobile deice.

    Thanks again,
    Kim

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