A patch of tall grass, the ravine behind your house, the base of a fallen log—these are all likely places where homeowners in some areas may find fawns in the springtime. As rural areas become rapidly urbanized, deer are being forced into suburbia. This could mean more wildlife, such as fawns, using our own backyards as hiding places. If this happens, it is important to know what to do and when to seek assistance. And the best place for them is exactly where you found them.
It is often misunderstood that a fawn on its own has been abandoned, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fawns begin to “drop”, or are born, in spring and summer, typically from April through June. A deer may give birth to one to three offspring, with twins being the most common. Weighing around 6 to 8 pounds, they are physically vulnerable but extremely successful at camouflaging themselves. Fawns are born with over 200 white spots on their body, starting from the neck and going to the base of the tail. These spots are irregular in size and randomly scattered to create a more camouflaged look. While different in color than the common green landscape, white spots placed against a dark pelt creates a mottled representation of sunlight dappled across the forest floor, making it easy for predators to pass by without a second glance.
During the first few weeks of a fawn’s life, its mother will hide the newborn away in tall grasses or brush. This ensures security from predators and people. A doe will leave her fawn alone in this secluded spot for much of the day, to not draw attention to where the fawn is hiding. Aside from their well-camouflaged fur, fawns are also adapted to hide from predators by being born virtually odorless. Does continue to keep their fawns’ scent-free by consuming their urine and feces during the first few weeks of life. This is just one of the many reasons to not disturb or touch a fawn that seeks refuge on your property—leaving human scent on a fawn can have devastating results, as now predators, such as cougars, coyotes, bears, wolves, and bobcats can easily sniff out the young deer.
It is a part of every fawn’s life to be left alone for hours at a time, with the mother only visiting to nurse them periodically. If a doe has twins (which is most common), she will even separate the two, hiding them hundreds of feet away from one another. It’s not until a fawn reaches the age of two weeks old that they start avidly traveling and walking around with their mothers. At this age they are fast and able to outrun many threats. Before two weeks, a fawn’s best defense mechanism against any threat is to remain very still and silent. When frightened, a fawn becomes motionless and dramatically slows its heartrate and breathing to remain undetected. A last line of defense for the fawn is its mother. Always within earshot of her fawn’s hiding spots, a doe will come running and ready to defend at the sound of a distressed bleat.
If you find a fawn this spring, it is best to leave it alone. Moving a fawn from the mother’s hiding spot is like “kidnapping”, and the doe may not be able to find her fawn again if moved too far away. If you absolutely must move a fawn from potential danger (roadways, water-filled ditches), never move them too far, and be sure to place them in some sort of concealed area (on the side of a log, within tall grass, etc.). It is a good idea to either wear gloves or minimize leaving your scent behind. This can be done by rubbing a towel in the grass and then handling or rubbing the fawn with it. A fawn’s best chance at survival is with its mother, as they learn many critical behaviors from their mothers that enable them to survive in the wild. If you are ever unsure if a fawn is in danger, always call a local wildlife agency or licensed wildlife rehabilitator BEFORE touching or moving the fawn. Most importantly, let the fawn be. The longer you hang around, the longer the doe is scared off, and it could be time for the fawn’s feeding! While extremely vulnerable at such a young age, fawns depend heavily on their mother’s care and their physical adaptations to remain invisible to the threats of nature.
Have you ever found a fawn in your backyard? What other animals can you think of that are born with such a natural instinct to survive?
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