It’s cold outside and there is snow on the ground. You look out your window and see what looks like a lifeless landscape covered in white. But then you notice some white-tailed deer wandering through the barren forest. If you have a tendency towards empathy, you may feel as though you would be doing the deer a service by providing them with a nutrient-rich food source to help fuel their survival through these winter months. But here’s why that is a bad idea:

In the summer deer are eating machines. They eat and eat and eat almost everything around them and all the while they are building up fat storage in their bodies. When the temperatures start declining, they slow down their eating and reduce their digestive function drastically. This allows them to rely mainly on their fat storage to get them through the winter, and less on their environment.

When we feed the deer in the winter the food sits in their digestive system and, due to the decreased digestion, does not break down. This causes the food to rot inside of them and can disrupt the micro-organisms in their gut. Ironically, feeding deer in the winter can lead to infection and death.

So, when you see deer in the winter, choose instead to be thankful for the moment given to you to be able to watch them in the wild. There is no need to feed them. They are well-equipped to handle the harsh winter climate.

Sam Nunes is an environmental educator at Woodcock Nature Center.