This is the time of year when you might come close to stepping on a baby White-tailed Deer. One morning I walked over to my day-lily garden to see how it was doing. I stopped at the edge and looked towards the back of the garden before looking at the plants right at my feet. When I did look down, I was shocked to see a baby deer looking up at me! Apparently it had felt well hidden among the tall leaves of the day-lily plants, and it was. I never would have seen it if I had not gone over there.
A baby deer is called a fawn while it has its white-spotted reddish-brown “baby coat” and is unweaned (still suckling its mother’s milk). Fawns are born at the end of May and the early part of June in Virginia.
An adult female deer (called a doe) may give birth to one, two, or three babies. Very rarely, there may even be four fawns born. The number depends upon the mother’s age and physical condition. Her first-born is usually single. After that she normally will have twins and sometimes triplets.
Fawns can walk soon after birth but they do not go very far for several weeks. Thus if you find a baby deer in your yard as I did, you can figure that your yard or someplace quite close by served as the maternity ward!
A 1972 study done in Texas found that, on average, White-tailed Deer fawns were only active (on the move) 8% of the time during their first two weeks of life. By the time they reached one month of age, male fawns were active about 16% of the time and females were active about 12% of the time.
Each period of daytime activity tended to last less than 35 minutes, increasing from two periods a day during the first week to five or six periods a day by the age of one month. The duration of the activity periods increased with the increasing age of the fawns, but they were not active for two hours at a time until they were more than one month old.
Only during their first week of life were the young deer most active during midday hours. After that they moved around in the morning and evening hours.
Thus deer associate with their fawns very little during the first 8 weeks after giving birth. When the does are not nursing their young, the fawns lie motionless among plants to try to keep themselves concealed, which is why people tend to find baby deer during the day.
Unfortunately, when this occurs, many folks assume the fawn is abandoned. They take the baby home to try to care for it or they take it to a wildlife rehabilitator.
But a very young deer will fare much better with its mom than with humans so please resist the urge to “save” it. A fawn that looks healthy and is not crying as if it is starving is undoubtedly being cared for.
So keep your eyes open for these small creatures, and remember to watch your step!
Naturalist Marlene A. Condon is the author/photographer of The Nature-friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, and People (Stackpole Books; information at www.marlenecondon.com). If you have a question about plants or animals, or gardening in a nature-friendly manner, send it to [email protected] and please watch for an answer in this paper.