In late spring and summer, many people are astonished to find an adorable, helpless-looking baby deer, or fawn curled up in their yard. Some assume the fawn is orphaned and in need of help, and run out to grab the animal. They don’t realize that this is the worst thing they can possibly do.
What’s happened is that the mother deer has “parked” her fawn there on purpose – in a place that seemed safe in the night. Deer moms do not stay with their fawns because they don’t want to attract predators. Mom has an odor, but her fawn does not. The fawn is completely dependent on her protective coloration (the spots on her coat that help her blend into the landscape) and on being scent-less to avoid detection by dogs, coyotes, and other sources of danger.
When good intentions go bad…
Only when the fawn is at least a month old will she start traveling around with mom. Until then, she stays put—more or less—and waits for her mom to come back and nurse her 2-3 times a day—usually in the early morning or at night, when no one is looking. When people don’t know this important information it can lead to “kidnapping”—taking the young fawn, mistakenly thinking she’s orphaned. This misplaced concern has led to cases of people trying to keep fawns as pets, which usually has a tragic outcome, since wild deer don’t make good—or legal—pets. Some people insist the fawn go to a wildlife rehabilitator, to ensure she’s kept safe. What they aren’t thinking about is that mom is out there, desperately looking for her baby. And no matter how good a rehabilitator is, they can’t teach the fawn necessary survival skills, like how to recognize and avoid predators. Only a mother deer can teach her fawn that. Fawns raised by people, even when using the best standards, simply can’t duplicate the vital teaching and guidance given by the natural parents.
Know when to help…
So if you think a fawn is orphaned, and are tempted to grab her, DON’T DO IT!!! In almost all cases, the fawn is behaving normally and should be left right where she is. ONLY under the following circumstances should the fawn be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator:
- If mom is definitely dead.
- If the fawn has been crying and wandering around all day (and has not been put in this condition by being chased by a dog, for example.)
- If the fawn is definitely injured (i.e. broken leg—not to be confused with their normal wobbly stage when they first start moving around.)
If you think a dead deer in the road is a mother of a nearby fawn, be sure to check the deer’s undersides for signs of lactation, such as milk-filled nipples.
For those few circumstances when you need to capture a clearly orphaned fawn:
- Be sure to put the fawn in a dark, warm and quiet place and do not feed her anything. Fawns have very delicate digestive systems and the wrong food, such as cow’s milk, can kill her.
- Get in touch with your local humane society, animal shelter, police, Audubon society, nature center, animal control officer, or veterinarian immediately!
- Ask them for the phone number of a wildlife rehabilitator who is licensed to take in deer. A rehabilitator specializing in deer may not be nearby, so be prepared to drive the fawn where she needs to go!
Happily, in almost all cases you can just enjoy the sight of that adorable fawn in your yard. Keep your dog away from her, and know that in a few short weeks mom will be whisking her away!