I live on a wooded gravel back road in northwestern Steuben County. My nearest neighbors are a half-mile away in either direction. My wildlife neighbors, however, are much closer. The same whitetail doe has given birth in the woods that surround my home each spring for the last four years, providing me with opportunities to photograph her babies and watch them grow. Apparently, she feels safe from predators here.
Life for a whitetail deer begins in late May or early June, when most does give birth. Twins are common, but triplets are rare. Fawns are born without scent, which helps to prevent their detection by predators, and they remain that way for a week or so after birth. Their spotted russet coats provide a natural camouflage that keeps them hidden in the sun-dappled woods.
In one of nature’s curiosities, the doe eats her placenta to eliminate any evidence of having given birth. Then she licks her babies clean and moves them to new hiding places where they lie motionless. She hides each fawn in a separate place and stays away to avoid her own scent from disclosing their locations. She returns several times a day to nurse and then leaves again. Even though they are able to walk shortly after birth, fawns spend their first few days lying still – right where mother left them – until she moves them again.
Sometimes people find a lone fawn and think that it is abandoned and in need of assistance in order to survive. In almost every case, that is a mistake. You can bet that a nervous mom is watching from not very far away. Typically, human intervention does more harm than good. And besides, it’s illegal to interfere. A fawn’s best chance for survival is to be raised by its mother. There is no substitute for mother’s milk, which contains the specific nutrients that fawns need to grow and be healthy. Supermarket milk just doesn’t cut it.
If you find a fawn or other baby wildlife, enjoy your encounter. Even take pictures. I’ve been fortunate to photograph newborn fawns on a number of occasions, and it is always a thrilling experience for me. But for the sake of the animal’s well-being, keep it brief and keep your distance. Don’t let your own scent attract a predator to the fawn’s location. The advice from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is this: “If you care, leave it there.” That’s the best advice, indeed.
by John Adamski