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Good intentions lead to fawn-napping

A fawn under Wildwoods' care. (Photo: Wildwoods)1 / 2
The author feeds a fawn. (Photo:Wildwoods)2 / 2

There is perhaps no other creature that brings forth the protective and nurturing instincts in people more than the whitetail fawn. Its delicate spindly legs, large expressive eyes with long lashes and sweet defenselessness can make the most hardened heart melt. If one encounters this endearing infant out in the wild, it is understandable to want to "save it" from all of the perceived dangers present in the world. I hope to alleviate the misconceptions about the parenting style of the whitetail doe and prevent the unintentional kidnapping of these babies.

Newborn fawns spend about 90 percent of their time lying down. Their tiny legs get tired quickly and there is no possible way they could keep up with the constant grazing and foraging that their mothers need to do. When they get tired they are "parked" by their mothers so they can go off to feed. This allows the little one to rest and also keeps it carefully hidden from predators. The doe comes back to nurse it and then promptly goes off again. She is never all that far away, but she knows her baby is safer without her presence alerting predators to its whereabouts.

At Wildwoods we receive countless calls about fawns that are found "all alone without a mom around." Chances are she is nearby, patiently waiting for the humans to leave. Until fawns are old enough to follow mom on her forays, their job is to stay hidden and quietly wait for the next mealtime. This is their instinctive behavior and it is completely natural to them. They are not afraid being on their own and are adept at staying concealed from danger. As they get older they will follow mom more and stay parked for shorter periods of time. They may even get up and explore a little on their own before settling down again.

It is difficult to convince our concerned callers that all is well and they should leave the fawn alone. It perhaps seems heartless to leave a baby without seeing a parent nearby. But it is even more devastating and traumatic for fawns when they are taken from their mothers and placed in unfamiliar surroundings and circumstances.

So when do fawns need help? Sometimes those tiny legs get tired in inconvenient places. In one instance a fawn decided to lie down in a bank drive-through lane. It was moved to the grassy area behind the bank and the mother was seen collecting it after it rested and the human audience dispersed.

If a fawn is crying for an extended length of time, it may need assistance. If you are hanging around too closely, however, its mother might hear the cries but is not willing to get near because of your presence.

A fawn should be nicely curled up and not stretched out or in an awkward position. If any injuries or wounds are seen or if there are flies or maggots seen on its body, call us immediately.

Fawns imprint to people easily. It doesn't take long for them to associate food and comfort with humans. Occasionally, well-meaning people take a fawn home with them and enjoy caring for it for a few days. Then the realization sets in that this precious thing will grow up to be a full-grown whitetail deer. They finally bring it to Wildwoods, often with digestive problems from being over- or underfed improper milk, and too habituated to people. The novelty of having a fawn in your life for a few days can come at a heavy price for the fawn.

I implore you to appreciate the experience of viewing a fawn in nature without disturbing it. Love it enough to let it grow up with its own mother to learn all the things it needs to thrive out in the world. If there is any doubt, please give us a call before taking action and we can help assess the situation.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

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