Whitetail bucks were planting the seeds for a new generation of deer back in November.
The little brown, white-spotted berries that represent that crop will be popping up in our local habitats during the last days of May and the first several days of June. We’re easing into the annual fawning season.
There are individual differences, but a high percentage of all new deer fawns are born within this period of about three weeks. The ideal time is defined by typically being mild enough for easy survivability and coming at a time when there is plenty of hiding cover for the baby deer and food for the mother does that deliver them.
These factors are being balanced by the births being early enough in the season that fawns have adequate time to develop and grow enough to bear the rigors of their first winter that’s coming in a few months.
Like other forms of wildlife, deer fawns get a survival edge by most being born about the same time. There is some safety in numbers here. Playing the odds, when most vulnerable fawns are out there concurrently, it is more difficult for predators to eat all of them.
Nature figures a level of predation into this. Some of the fawn crop will be discovered, killed and consumed. After all, predators and their young must eat, too. But when most fawns are out there at the same time, a high percentage of them will survive predation.
A doe deer is typically impregnated around the middle of November, and she is ready to pop out her offspring after a gestation that averages 210 days. A doe usually breeds the first time at the age of about 18 months, producing a single fawn at the age of 2 years. Most often, does age 3 and older yield twin fawns.
Triplets occur sometimes in the case of mother does that are especially fit in habitats that are prime. Genetic predisposition may figure into it, but mom must be well fed, too.
With most adult does birthing twins or single fawns, the deer population can increase by nearly half during the relative few days of the fawning season.
A doe usually moves into a somewhat sheltered area when it is time for her to give birth. Some cover in a woodland or field area will hide the fawning from possible enemies. When a doe drops twins, she typically births them nearby but separately. Again, for predation concerns, she doesn’t put all her eggs in the same basket.
The newly born fawn averages about 5 to 7 pounds in weight. That’s not much of a deer, but with luck it will grow quickly and weigh 45 to 60 pounds by the time of the first frost.
The new fawn is a spindly little thing, chestnut brown flecked with white spots that create a surprisingly good camouflage. Combined with a near total lack of scent, the camouflage allows a fawn to essentially hide in place to avoid predators.
That’s necessary, because the first three weeks to a month of a fawn’s life are a time of high risk of toothy demise. It takes that long for a fawn to become mobile enough to travel with its mother. And it can be nearly six weeks before a fawn can fly through the woods and fields fast enough to escape pursuing predators.
Until that fawn is up to speed, so to speak, mother doe spends little time with her baby. The fawn’s vulnerability is being noticed, so the doe avoids the fawn as much as possible early on so that predators aren’t drawn to the offspring by her.
During the first few weeks of life, a fawn gets maternal visits only a few times a day. During these, the fawn nurses enthusiastically. But except for these flurries of feeding, the fawn spends most of its time alone, lying still in the camouflaging cover, playing invisible.
These circumstances often get a young fawn in trouble when it is discovered by a concerned human trying to be helpful. Many people don’t grasp the distanced maternal care of deer. Finding a lone fawn, too many think it must be abandoned or orphaned.
Acting on emotions, especially since the tiny deer are so cute, many people have doomed young fawns by “rescuing” them. When someone finds, captures and removes a baby deer, in fact, it breaks that bond with the mother doe (that probably was looking on helplessly from a distance).
The bone-headed rescue removes the fawn from its chances of growing up as a wild deer, learning what it needs for survival from its natural mom’s examples. If it can be fed successfully and it even survives in captivity, it imprints on people and cannot be expected to live on its own in the wild later.
If the fawn is a buck, it grows into an unpredictable animal that can be dangerous to humans in its captivity or if allowed to roam on its own. “Pet” bucks have killed their keepers.
Atop all this, taking or having a deer without special licensing is expressly illegal.
Should you want to help baby deer that are out there during this period, euthanize a coyote now and then. Otherwise, just know that there are bunches of them about to be there in coming days. And leave them alone.
Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.