A three-legged deer stops by a feeding station to eat in this trail camera photo. Credit: Courtesy of Dennis Jones

Every now and then, you’ll see a wild animal — or a photo of one — that leaves you wondering, “What happened?”

Dennis Jones of Princeton, Minnesota, provided one such photo recently when he sent us a trail camera photo of a three-legged deer. Before you start feeling sad for the deer, take a look at it: The animal looks remarkably robust, and certainly looks to be thriving.

Jones explained that he regularly sees that deer, along with 10 others, as they visit the buffet of peas that he feeds them.

A group of deer belly up to a feeding station in Minnesota. Credit: Courtesy of Dennis Jones

I reached out to Nathan Bieber, the deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to ask about three-legged deer and how they tend to survive in nature. Specifically, I wondered if the deer was more likely to have had a birth defect, and how the lack of a limb may have created challenges for the deer in the wild.

“I suppose a birth defect would be possible, but most three-legged deer have probably sustained a significant injury somewhere along the way,” Bieber said. “Deer can live fine on three legs in many cases. Losing a limb or multiple limbs certainly makes life more difficult, but deer are very resilient critters.”

If food and shelter are readily available, the deer is more likely to thrive, he said.

“There are some situations where it’s probably not even that great a hardship for the animal. Imagine living in an agriculture-dominated area where you can find lots of food, water and cover in a small area and predators are probably pretty scarce,” he said. “Losing a limb in an area like [that] won’t be nearly as detrimental as losing a limb if you’re out in the big woods needing a large home range to meet all your needs.”

A disclaimer: Here in Maine, wildlife biologists at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife advise against feeding deer for a variety of reasons. Among those: Feeding can disrupt regular deer migration patterns and set up a dangerous situation for the animals, which will be readily available for predators to target.

I know, I know; I’m getting preachy again. (Hey, I’m a columnist. It’s what we do, sometimes). Just do me a favor and read the link before you decide that feeding deer would be a good way to spend your winter.

And whatever you do, keep the trail camera photos and videos coming.

Do you have a trail camera photo or video to share? Send it to jholyoke@bangordailynews.com and tell us “I consent to the BDN using my photo.” In order to prevent neighbors from stopping by to try to tag particularly large bucks, moose or bears, some identities and towns of origin may be omitted.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...