Observe Whitetail Fawns From a Distance

Spring is the time of year for wildlife babies, including whitetail deer. All too often, when people find a fawn cuddled up and all alone, they assume that it is an orphan or has been abandoned by its mother. The temptation is to pick it up or otherwise try to provide assistance. In almost every case, that is a mistake. An anxious mom is no doubt watching from not very far away.

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 detection by predators and they remain that way for a week or so after birth. Their spotted russet coats provide a natural camouflage that blends in with the leaf litter in the sun-dappled woods.

In one of nature’s curiosities, the doe eats her placenta to remove evidence of having given birth. Then she licks her babies clean and moves them to new hiding places where they will lie still until she moves them again. 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.

If you find a newborn fawn or other baby wildlife, enjoy your encounter. Even take pictures. I’ve had the good fortune to photograph newborn fawns on a number of occasions and it is always a thrill 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.” And that’s the best advice indeed.


story and photo by John Adamski