This is what to do the next time you find a fawn in the woods.
Summer is here and the woods are full of newborn fawns. This time of year is a frustrating one for wildlife rehabilitators because many young fawns are needlessly taken away from mother deer on the assumption they are "abandoned." Most of this simply comes from people who are not properly educated about the animals.
The truth is most young fawns are not orphaned and the mother deer is a short distance away. In fact, the mother is probably watching you. People negatively affect fawn survival every year all over the country. It is not because they mean to do it. Their heart is in the right place, but they simply do not realize they are doing more harm than good.
That is why we are doing a quick 101 on baby deer. We will answer some of the Internet's most burning questions about deer fawns and tell you what you should do the next time you encounter one that appears to be orphaned.
When do deer have fawns?
Most deer hunting enthusiasts know about the white-tailed deer and mule deer ruts, but for those unfamiliar, the breeding season for deer generally takes place from October through November here in North America. Some female deer may be bred late in December and produce fawns later in the summer if they were not bred earlier. The pregnancy lasts about 200 days with fawns being born in April, May and early June.
There is at least one exception to this timeline and that is in New Zealand where a small population of whitetail deer lives. Because of the difference in seasons between the northern and southern hemisphere, the timing is flipped completely around. The rut happens in April and May in New Zealand and fawns are born in December and January.
Buck fawns are usually larger than doe fawns and they start walking almost immediately after they are born, albeit quite clumsily. For the first week or so of a fawn's life, their best defense is to hide. That dovetails directly into our next frequently asked question.
How long do fawns keep their spots?
When they are born, whitetails and mule deer have anywhere from 200 to 300 white spots speckled across their coat. Those are not there just for decoration or to make the fawn cuter, although they are good for that. Instead, they are meant to act as natural camouflage because the fawns are still weak and cannot run very well. The best way for a fawn to hide from predators is to lay perfectly still and try to blend in with its surroundings. At this young age, fawns do not give off any smell. That means a predator can walk right past without ever knowing an easy meal was there for the taking.
The mother usually weans fawns off her milk about 10 weeks after they are born. The young deer lose their spots near the end of summer and beginning of fall. I should note this totally contradicts the incredibly stupid timeline in the movie "Bambi" where the cartoon deer still has spots at one year of age. This never happens. Do not use that as your gauge for how long they keep them. If you look closely at some fawns in the late fall, you may still be able to see traces of their spots, especially if the deer was born late. In my experience, I have observed that mule deer fawns tend to keep their spots slightly longer than whitetail fawns.
How many fawns do deer have?
This is dependent on many factors including overall deer populations, the amount of available forage and sometimes the age of the doe. For instance, many first-time mothers and much older does will often give birth to just one healthy fawn. For most areas, twin fawns are incredibly common and what you are most likely to observe in the wild. If there is a mild winter and forage is readily available, you will sometimes see triplets, but it is more uncommon. I have only observed it twice in the last 20 years here in southwest Michigan. That is despite spending a ton of time outdoors and running numerous trail cameras every spring.
Does having four fawns have been readily documented too. The Quality Deer Management Association notes they have no record of it ever happening in a wild deer however. Most instances of this occur under perfect conditions in captivity. It is worth noting that there have been a few documented cases of orphaned fawns being taken in by other does, however this is also incredibly uncommon.
How long will a deer leave its fawn?
Unfortunately, most people end up unwittingly kidnapping fawns from their mother during their first few weeks of life. Someone sees a lone fawn laying on the ground, and it does give the appearance it has been abandoned. However, mother deer keep their distance to draw predators away from their young. This is the best survival tactic they have. During the first few weeks of life a doe may leave her fawn for eight to twelve hours at a time. She may only move in to feed briefly and then she will go back to foraging. That sounds extreme, but the fawn's spots help it hide in the grass and leaf litter of the forest.
This is when fawns get into trouble with humans. A scenario that often plays out is someone will find a fawn curled up and hiding in their garden or in the yard under the bushes. They get concerned when the fawn is there all day and never moves. This is what leads to many people calling in reports about "orphaned fawns." The truth is that mom is probably watching from a distance and is hoping you will just move away. She may even come into the yard and try to draw you off if she sees you in some cases.
What do I do if I find a fawn in my yard?
In most instances, you should do nothing. Take a photo or two from a distance and enjoy the moment, but do NOT move the fawn, pet it, or try to feed it. As we have already noted, the odds are great it is not abandoned, it is simply doing what fawns do best and that is hiding. Sometimes it does not work so well when it is laying in the middle of your front yard, but the deer does not know that. Leave it alone, it does not need "help."
Unless you know for certain the fawn's mother is dead, it is best to just let nature take its course. When we say for certain, we mean you can see the baby standing over the body of its mother and it is crying out loudly in distress. Use caution if you find a fawn near a dead doe. There is a chance the fawn does not belong to the dead deer. Even if you are certain the fawn is alone in the world, it is a job that is best left to the professionals. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to come in and evaluate the situation. Do NOT try to capture the animal and take it to a vet or animal clinic yourself.
We do want to acknowledge that sometimes lone fawns do get themselves into situations where only humans can help. Earlier this year a fawn fell into a gopher hole in New Jersey and had to be dug out by firefighters, but this is rare. If you find a fawn that is trapped or stuck in a spot where the mother cannot retrieve it, call your local game warden to report it. They will know what to do. In the case of that fawn that fell in the hole, the firefighters placed it back in the woods and the mother retrieved it.
There is an urban legend circulating that says the adult deer will not take back a fawn that has been touched by humans. This is simply untrue. Usually, if placed back where it was found, the fawn's mother will come back for it. In the extreme situation where you MUST move a fawn, try to wear gloves to reduce your scent on the baby animal. It will help its survival and will make the mother less wary.
Overall, the best thing to do when you find a fawn is to take a photo and admire the cuteness from a distance. These are wild animals and we should treat them that way. The more you leave a fawn alone, the greater its chances for survival.