Before “Rescuing” That White-tailed Fawn...Think Twice!

The beautiful spring weather ushers in the reproductive season for most wildlife. The appearance of young birds and mammals provide enjoyable viewing opportunities for all. Spotted white-tailed deer fawns offer one of the most appealing sights in nature. Fawns typically appear walking closely to their protective mother or bounding across a field with seemingly unlimited energy. However, in May and June many fawns are found curled up in the field or forest alone, with no vigilant doe in sight. Is this an orphaned fawn? Almost certainly never!

White-tailed deer mate in the fall (October – December). The male deer (buck) plays no role in raising fawns. After the female deer (doe) gives birth to one or two fawns and nurses them, she leads them into secluded habitat within her familiar home range. Twin fawns can be separated by up to 200 feet. The doe then leaves them alone for extended periods of time. The doe returns periodically to nurse them and to relocate them to new secluded habitat. This pattern will continue for up to 3 weeks. By this time the fawns are mature enough to keep up with their mother and able to race out of real or perceived danger.

Newborn fawns have almost no body odor and their reddish brown coat with white spots make young fawns almost invisible to predators. Fawns lie motionless on the ground surrounded by low vegetation. The fawn’s natural instinct is to freeze even when approached by another animal. As fawns grow and mature, they will initially freeze, but they jump up and bound away.

Evolutionary adaptations provide white-tailed deer with the ability to survive in rapidly changing landscapes. In pre-colonial times, white-tailed deer were large prey animals for gray wolves, mountain lions and Native Americans. All three predators effectively caught white-tailed deer year round. The predators’ survival depended on taking white-tailed deer. The deer’s survival depended on escaping from these primary predators.

Today, man remains the lone primary predator of deer in Maryland and in most of the white-tailed deer’s range. Recent immigrant coyotes and native black bears may take some young fawns during this short 3-week period that fawns remain motionless. Only coyotes attempt to catch adult white-tailed deer and their success is extremely low.

Speed and jumping ability are the primary escape mechanisms for adult white-tailed deer. An adult deer can run about 30 miles per hour in short bursts up to 40 miles per hour. A running deer can easily leap over an 8-foot tall obstacle such as a fallen tree. Deer are excellent swimmers and may avoid predators by taking to deep water. This escape into water will also confuse the sent trail for pursuing predators.

What should a person do when they encounter a young fawn hiding on the ground? Never try to catch it. If the fawn is lying down, enjoy the moment and then quietly walk away. Do not describe the location to others. If the fawn attempts to follow you, gently push on its shoulders until it lies down and then slowly walk away. The doe would do the same thing when she wants the fawn to stay put.

Removing deer or other native wild animals from the wild, raising them and keeping them in captivity without the approval of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is against the law. The unnatural conditions of life in captivity can lead to malnutrition, injury and stress at the hands of a well-meaning captor. Wild animals that become accustomed to humans can pose a threat to themselves and to people. Remember, if you observe a fawn, enjoy the moment, but do not pick it up.

For questions regarding fawns or other young wild animals, contact the Wildlife Services Information Line, toll free, at (877) 463-6497, or DNR’s Wildlife & Heritage Service at the following offices: Cumberland at (301) 777-2136; Bel Air at (410) 836-4557; Gaithersburg at (301) 258-7308; Annapolis at (410) 260-8540; or Wye Mills at (410) 827-8612, ext.105.