Now is the time of year when, as you wander through field or forest, you may be lucky enough to spy a reddish-brown lump peering up at you from the grass. More likely, you’ll miss it and wander by.
In Georgia, late spring to late summer is fawning season for white-tailed deer. A doe may give birth to one, two, or even three fawns, each weighing 4-8 pounds. Fawns can stand soon after birth, but aren’t able to keep up with their mothers for a week or so. Their best defense is in stealth.
For one thing, they have very little scent compared to an older whitetail. There is enough for a doe to recognize her offspring, but not enough for her (or a coyote) to easily trail it. Their second asset is their reddish-brown color. That seems counterproductive until you realize that most predators don’t see well in the red range of the spectrum; like many color-blind humans, coyotes and bobcats cannot easily distinguish between red and green, so a reddish fawn in green grass is pretty unobtrusive. Furthermore, they are dappled with white spots. Perhaps it breaks up their visual pattern further, or perhaps it mimics the dapples of sunlight filtering through the leaves.
But this camouflage only works if the fawn is absolutely still, even when danger is near. A frightened fawn’s breathing becomes slow and shallow, and its heart rate plummets. I’ve seen fawns so still I wasn’t sure they were alive; they wouldn’t move even when touched.
Does feed their fawns several times a day. After each feeding, the fawn leaves the doe and curls up in grass, under bushes or in some other cover; this way, the doe’s own scent won’t draw a coyote or other predator to the fawn. Until the mother calls for it, the fawn lays motionless and quiet, safely hidden in forest thicket, field, or even backyard — I once found a fawn hiding under my truck!
To come upon a fawn is a treat. Unfortunately, many people who find one assume the mother has abandoned it. Too often, these well-meaning folks will carry the young deer home and either try to take care of it or call a zoo or nature center. Either way, the doe has lost her fawn, and the fawn has lost any chance at a normal life. “Rescuing” fawns that aren’t in trouble never ends well for the animal. It is very difficult to provide the right nutrition and attention for any infant, and even if the deer lives to adulthood it may lack the skills to survive in the wild. In addition, requests for assistance with fawns overwhelm wildlife rehabilitators at this time of year, keeping them from helping animals in genuine trouble. A couple of years ago I had to collect a fawn from someone who tried to be helpful but couldn’t support the animal. With no rehabilitators to take it, I had to put it down. I don’t want to have to do that again.
If you find a fawn, the best thing to do is walk away quietly. If the animal is in a dangerous place – such as in a road or a field about to be plowed – it is okay to move it out of the way, preferably to a shady spot. Touching a fawn briefly will not make the mother abandon it, but taking it home will!