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
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.