When you find a fawn
Orphan season is underway and we're getting lots of calls about baby squirrels and baby bunnies. And now, for an intense two to three weeks, these phone calls will mostly be fawn calls: "I found a baby deer and he's all alone! Is he abandoned? What should I do?"
Let's walk through some information and various scenarios together so you'll be prepared.
In our neck of the woods, whitetail deer fawns are born in late May and early June. A doe may have one or two fawns and occasionally even three. Though fawns can stand and walk shortly after birth, they won't be able to keep up with their mother or effectively run from danger until around midsummer.
For the first six weeks or so of the fawn's life, the doe "parks" her babies when she isn't feeding them. If she has two fawns, she may put them in two different locations to decrease the chances they will be discovered. She relies on the fawn's spotted coat to help camouflage it in the dappled sunlight and shade and also upon its relative lack of scent. The fawn lies curled up quietly on the ground, motionless and still until its mother returns to feed it.
Several times a day, the doe will return to check up on and feed her fawns. After she feeds them, she will leave again to eat. She spends little time as possible with her helpless babies so that she does not alert predators to their whereabouts.
If you find a fawn curled up by itself, you may worry that it's been abandoned or is in trouble. And it's so cute! You may feel an urge to pet it, stand around and take pictures, bring the kids to see it or even to take it home and raise it yourself.
Please resist these urges. A fawn lying curled up in this normal posture is fine and mom is caring for it. The doe may be anxiously watching you right now and hoping you'll leave without hurting or abducting her baby. The longer you stay, the more you alarm her. If you pet the fawn, you'll put your scent on it. It is now easier for a predator to sniff it out. If you take it home, you've damaged its life and its chance for a future.
Keeping and attempting to raise any wild baby, including fawns, is not legal without proper licensing and permits. If you'd like to help with this sort of work, volunteer with your local wildlife rehabber or become permitted yourself.
Why is a permit necessary? All wild babies have specific dietary needs. It's really easy to make them sick or even inadvertently kill them without proper training.
It's also very easy to get fawns and other animal too used to humans. Animals who are habituated to humans are easy targets for humans with bad intentions.
Also, when that animal hits its teenage and adult years and wants to defend its territory, guess what? It may see humans as its rivals. It's alarming and quite painful to be attacked by a furious red squirrel who's been inappropriately kept as a pet. It's dangerous when a raptor, or worse yet, a deer thinks humans are its rivals and attacks. "Tame" deer have killed people.
If a fawn is lying curled up on the ground, it is fine. Walk away. However, if it is obviously hurt or bleeding, call a wildlife rehabilitator. We may ask you to help by bringing it in. If a fawn is stretched out unresponsive on its side, it is sick and in trouble. Call us and bring it in. If it is next to a dead doe, it also needs your help.
If you have a fawn wandering around and calling for mom, call us. We will need your help evaluating this situation. Sometimes the fawn is fine and mom is just late; sometimes there is a problem.
We are fortunate to live in an area where encounters with wildlife are common. This spring, when you stumble upon that fawn half-hidden in the grass, enjoy it ... but only for a moment. And then quietly walk away.
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.
Peggy Farr is a volunteer and board member of Wildwoods and works in human health care.