What Do Reindeer Eat? (Diet & Facts)

Reindeers are pretty iconic animals, possibly, due to the fact that they are (in pop culture and fiction) Santa’s sleigh pullers. However, these little animals are unique and worth getting to know beyond their role in Christmas history. So let’s do it now!

The Physical Characteristics of Reindeer

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Reindeers are animals of significant proportion. Male reindeer can grow more than 1,2 meters in height to the shoulder and exceed 550 pounds in weight. In the females’ case, they can be a bit smaller; both males and females possess antlers; this is the only deer species where this happens.

The antlers of large males are up to 51 inches long; on the other hand, the antlers of the females are only up to 20 inches. So if you compare it to their body size, the reindeer’s antlers are bigger and heavier than all deer.

These antlers fall and grow back every year. This process occurs in males, with the arrival of November when their antlers begin to fall, until their growth in spring. The female reindeer are different since they conserve their antlers during winter but they fall in May when their offspring are born.

The reindeer have deep, cloven hooves. These hairy hooves are the thing that allows reindeer to move on snow or soft ground. Its fur extends from the nose to the soles of the feet, and its color can vary from a whitish color in winter times to brown in summer.

When it comes to their fur, reindeer have hollow heavy protection hairs that increase the insulating properties of their fur. But this characteristic is not the only one; their unique nose allows them to warm the cold air before it enters their lungs, and in addition, they possess a great sense of smell.

The Nature of Reindeer

Reindeers, commonly known as “caribou” in North America, have two varieties, reindeer of the tundra and reindeer of the forest. These animals can grow strong and healthy if they enjoy proper nutrition, and they compete in part of autumn for the females, when their antlers and body mass have been produced as needed.

The mating season is short; it only lasts 11 days and takes place in autumn. The tundra males inhabited by thousands of females check other males’ antlers size in order to avoid brutal fights; this does not happen with the forest reindeer, who defend their harems discreetly and fight harder.

In the case of both varieties, only one calf is born in May or June, covering seven and a half months of management, whose calf rapidly grows thanks to its mother’s milk. But half of the calves may be eaten by wolfs, bears, or wildcats.

The Distribution Area, Habitat, and Life Span of Reindeer

Reindeers are a type of deer that inhabit the arctic tundra and boreal forests adjacent to Greenland, Alaska, Scandinavia, Russia, and Canada. Tundra reindeer migrate from the tundra to the forest in large herds that can number up to half a million reindeer, covering an annual cycle of up to 3,000 miles.

These herds follow food sources, traveling south when food is scarce in winter. Likewise, Euroasian and American forest reindeer live in small family groups of 6 to 13 reindeer, with a seasonal range of 500 square kilometers. Their life span is about 15 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity.

What Do Reindeer Eat?

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Reindeer are herbivorous animals whose diet varies according to the season.

  • Spring, summer, and part of autumn: The basis  The basis of a reindeer diet at these times of the year is grass, herbs, ferns, shoots, leaves of shrubs, and trees; in the case of the latter mentioned, reindeer love eating willow and birch leaves, as well as reed and grasses. Similarly, these animals also enjoy eating fruits and berries when available; however, they only eat those as a snack because they can affect the reindeer’s health in large quantities.
  • Winter: When the cold is relentless, and food is scarce, reindeer use their excellent sense of smell to locate lichens under the snow. Lichens are the primary food for reindeer during the winter season; there is even a variant called “reindeer lichen.” The lichen is an organism composed of fungi and algae, which live in a symbiotic relationship in order to survive. It is worth noticing that the reindeer are the only mammals capable of digesting lichen, as their intestines contain particular bacteria that make it easy to digest.
  • Domestic reindeer: In the majority, domestic reindeer eat grass and hay every day. In addition, since it is an herbivore, it can eat large quantities of vegetables; some of these may be kale, chard, lettuce, beet greens, and the like.

What Do Baby Reindeer eat?

The baby reindeer, more commonly known as calves, have a diet similar to grown-up reindeer. This solid food diet begins one week after birth. In the first week, they will only enjoy their mother’s milk, which will later be supplemented with solid foods for six months, until the mother stops breastfeeding her calf.

How Much Do Reindeer Eat?

Reindeer consume a considerable amount of vegetation; they can consume up to 20 pounds per day. An average reindeer is estimated to consume up to 15 pounds of vegetation in seasons when food is plentiful. Nevertheless, reindeer can eat as little as 5 pounds of vegetation when winter arrives.

How Do Reindeer Hunt?

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Reindeer are not hunting animals. Being herbivores, folivores, and graminivores, reindeer feed primarily on leaves, herbs, and any grass plant; for this reason, they do not hunt other species.

Instead, the reindeer have to take care of being hunted by other animals like wolfs and polar bears. Furthermore, the main predators of baby reindeer are eagles; in this regard, their antlers play a fundamental role in the reindeer’s defense when predators attack them.

Reindeer as Domestic Animals or Pets

Reindeer are considered one of the last animals to be domesticated by man. It is estimated that there are around 2,5 million domesticated reindeer in nine countries, including Russia, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

It is worth noting that reindeer are the only deer species widely domesticated in all of Europe; these are used not only as pack animals for those who domesticate them, but they are also pretty valuable due to their fur, milk, and meat.

Reindeer skin is quite helpful and practical for making coats, thanks to their thick and hollow fur and their milk which is considered one of the most delicious kinds of milk.


What Does Santa Claus Feed His Reindeer?

When Christmas arrives, it is impossible not to remember Santa with his sleigh and his strong reindeer pulling it. To be honest, cookies and candies are Santa’s favorite food during the Christmas season. Nevertheless, these are not part of the diet of his reindeer team.

Reindeer have a delicate digestive system and cannot digest treats well. Not to mention that pulling a sled loaded with gifts around the world requires a healthy and robust body.

For this reason, Santa Claus feeds his reindeer leaves, sunflower seeds, and a variety of vegetable food to keep his reindeer healthy and strong for the journey. In addition to supplying them with all the water they need.

Do Reindeer Really Eat Carrots?

Carrots are one of the most widely produced and consumed vegetables around the world due to their rich composition of vitamins and minerals. However, it is not the reindeer’s favorite food since they prefer to eat green vegetables, willow, and birch leaves, as mentioned above.

In addition, carrots are not part of their natural diet since reindeer have difficulty digesting them, as they do not possess incisor teeth in their upper jaw. So basically, yes, they can eat carrots but not as frequently as they can because of the reasons above.

In Conclusion

Reindeer get all the public interest of the world’s population when the Christmas period arrives. However, beyond the cultural folklore of Christmas, reindeer can turn into domestic animals only if there is the right person to tame them. Reindeer can be pretty dangerous if the proper necessary foresight measures are not taken into consideration.

It is important to remember that reindeer are wild animals that are sociable creatures, which is why they like to stay in herds, which requires a large amount of land to domesticate this kind of animal. So it is best to enjoy their splendor by leaving them in their habitat.

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