Reindeer Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Reindeer are amazing creatures--far beyond the cartoon images we see at Christmastime! In this lesson, explore where reindeer live, what they eat and the special physical adaptations they have for survival.

Common Image of Reindeer

We all know about that famous reindeer with the red nose that people sing about during the Christmas holiday. Our culture has created a cartoon image of what a reindeer looks like. In reality, this animal has very interesting characteristics that make it much different from that holiday image we are most familiar with.

This cartoon depiction is what many people imagine when they think of reindeer.
Rudolph cartoon image

Physical Characteristics

Reindeer belong to the deer species (which caribou are also a part of). Reindeer males, called bulls, have large horns and bodies covered with soft fur. Females are called cows, and most female varieties also have horns, though their horns are somewhat smaller than those of a bull. A baby deer is called a calf, and they have to grow quickly in order to survive in the wild.

A baby reindeer is called a calf.
deer calf in the wild

These animals have very strong legs to enable them to run quickly and even swim across rivers, if needed. Their hooves can change to adapt to the season. In the summertime, their hooves get softer, which helps them walk on softer ground. In the winter, they become stronger in order to avoid slipping on snow and ice.

Habitat and Diet

Reindeer are able to live in cold, snowy climates. They are naturally found in the Arctic and in the mountains of Europe and North America. Reindeer are herbivores, which means they eat only plants. They often dig in the snow to find lichens, plant-like objects very closely related to algae and fungus. Leaves, grasses and mushrooms are also favorite foods for reindeer.

This bull is grazing on green grass during the warm weather months.
reindeer with antlers grazing

Surviving in the Wild

Reindeer can run very fast for a reason--they have quite a few predators. Coyotes and wolverines are natural enemies, as are brown bears and polar bears. Even hawks and eagles have been known to attack and eat reindeer to survive. Another enemy of reindeer is extremely small: Blood-sucking insects feast on reindeer to survive.

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