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Think Twice Before “Rescuing” that White-Tailed Fawn
ANNAPOLIS – Spring represents the renewal of nature with many young animals entering the world. The appearance of young birds and mammals provide enjoyable viewing opportunities for all, and spotted white-tailed deer fawns offer one of the most appealing sights in nature. During the summer months, fawns typically appear walking closely to their attentive 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, between October and December. In May and June, the female deer, or doe, gives birth to one or two fawns and initially nurses them. She then leads them into secluded habitat within her familiar home range. Twin fawns can be separated by up to 200 feet, and the mother leaves them alone for extended periods of time, returning 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 strong enough to keep up with their mother and able to race out of real or perceived danger. The male deer, or buck, plays no role in raising fawns.
Newborn fawns have almost no body odor and their reddish-brown coats with white spots make them almost invisible to predators. They will lie motionless on the ground surrounded by low vegetation. The fawn’s natural instinct is to freeze even when approached by another animal. As they grow and mature, they will initially freeze but then jump up and bound away.
Evolutionary adaptations provide white-tailed deer with the ability to survive in rapidly changing landscapes. In pre-colonial times, deer were large prey animals for wolves, mountain lions and Native Americans whose very survival relied on successfully catching the animals. The deer’s survival depended on escaping from these primary predators and achieving great speeds quickly was of critical importance. Deer have evolved to be able to reach speeds of 30 miles per hour and leap over 8-foot obstacles such as fallen trees.
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.
What should a person do when they encounter a young fawn hiding on the ground? First of all, 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 animals from the wild, raising them and keeping them in captivity without the approval of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 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 (301)777-2136; Bel Air (410)836-4557; Gaithersburg (301)258-7308; Annapolis (410)260-8540; or Wye Mills (410)-827-8612, ext. 105.
May 30, 2007
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 446,000 acres of public lands and 18,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 11 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov