Cheryl Kimball's Nature Talks: Deer in the backyard can be enjoyable

By CHERYL KIMBALL January 06. 2017 7:47PM
Deer in suburban Ohio have adapted to living in close quarters with the human population. This one nestled between two homes for a rest. (Cheryl Kimball)

AT LEAST 20 YEARS ago, a little book appeared on the market called “Outwitting Squirrels.” Anyone with a bird feeder knows how popular such a book would be. And it was. Not only was the book popular and offered some good advice, but it was funny. So popular and humorous that a spin-off series was created. I proposed a book to the publisher on outwitting bats, something I had been trying to deal with in our old barn. They instead asked me to write a book called “Outwitting Ants.” Having seen an ant or two in my lifetime and desperate to make a career out of writing books, I said yes.

I had fun writing the book and learned a lot about ants in the process. But I can’t say it was very funny. Nor was it as popular as its squirrel counterpart. The squirrel book is still available today from a different publisher; the ant book is not.

The only book in the series that I think came close to the success of the squirrel book was one (by the same author as the squirrel book) called “Outwitting Deer.” This was not a book, like others you will find if you search “outwitting deer” online, about how to outsmart deer in order to hunt them down and kill them. The subtitle explains the book’s real intent: “101 Truly Ingenious Methods and Proven Techniques to Prevent Deer from Devouring Your Garden and Destroying Your Yard.”

In suburban areas, deer populations are typically received with mixed reactions. Suburbs are by definition outlying residential areas within commuting distance of cities and large towns. As population increased, road systems improved and expanded, and cars became more fuel-efficient, “suburbs” moved farther and farther from those cities, and we ended up almost with sub-suburbs. Whatever the case, these new residential areas span the gap between city and rural — and take over wildlife habitat. Some wildlife retreat and others — raccoons and deer to name a couple — try to adapt.

Deer populations in suburbs are often subject to “population control,” but many people just enjoy their presence. That seems to be the case with my in-laws in their southern Ohio suburb if the pictures, both taken in their backyard, of a piebald buck and a doe nursing her fawn posted on their refrigerator are any indication.

Christmas Eve morning I enjoyed observing two of their local urban deer population who decided to take a nap just outside the window between the house and the neighbor’s fence. Occasionally behind that fence were two or more Great Danes, but the deer did not seem to care a whit about that. They apparently felt safe being sandwiched between house and fence. One appeared to be keeping watch facing the fence; the other had her back to the fence, and at one point she even tucked her head back along her shoulder, closed her eyes and fell sound asleep.

On Christmas afternoon I took a short walk around the neighborhood. On the way back I heard a rattling noise to my right and on the side of a driveway saw a large doe on her hind legs pulling and shaking the limb of an oak with lots of dried leaves still attached. She did not worry at all about my presence on the street.

This is the kind of activity that makes suburban deer unpopular (and made “Outwitting Deer” sell so well!) since they do not distinguish between the yummy wild trees and the expensive, purchased ornamental trees and shrubs and tulips and hostas that you plant around your yard. Yummy, yummier, yummiest.

These suburban interactions with wildlife are the cost and benefit of the human encroachment on animals’ homes and feeding territories. Cluster housing in more rural residential areas leaving large tracts of land intact can help all species live peacefully. Learning to enjoy and live with the animals in your area — and not intentionally feeding large wildlife to avoid negative interactions — can make it possible for all of us to have what we need out of these imposed relationships. And besides, it is just lovely to watch a deer sleep outside your window!

Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at

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