Northwoods Wildlife Rescue: It’s best to leave fawns alone
They may seem to need your help, but the smartest way to help them may be to let them be.
This is the time of year (May to early July) when does are birthing their fawns.
They do not seem to be very picky about where they have them – it might be in your yard, in the ditch on the side of the road or just about anywhere they happen to be when the baby decides to appear.
The fawns are not able to walk right away. The mother will generally lick them clean and encourage them to stand. Their little legs take a bit of getting used to, and much like human babies, they may fall down a few times while they get the hang of it.
Also, much like young children, when they get tired they just lay down, wherever they happen to be, and refuse to move. Unfortunately, that could be in the middle of the road or near other dangers like dogs.
We humans can do a lot to help these mothers and babies. If you see a doe cross the road, please slow down. There may be one or two fawns trying to keep up that will cross after her that you may need to avoid. Enjoy watching them.
Does have a way of instructing their fawns to lay curled up and be still. Does do this while they eat, so they don’t draw predators to their babies. They do this when they sense danger, and they do it when they want to get some rest.
If she has more than one fawn (she can have up to three), she will usually put them down in different locations. She is smart enough to know if a predator happens to find one, it won’t likely find the others.
Fawns have little or no scent for the first few weeks. The doe feeds them, cleans them, and then stays away from them as she has a scent and knows she will draw predators to her babies.
She will attend each baby individually, so it may seem like it has been left alone for a long time. That is perfectly normal. When she senses danger she will run away to get the predators to chase her, drawing them away from her babies. She will not return to the babies until the threat is gone. Sometimes she will be away for minutes, sometimes hours, or even a day. The fawn will obediently wait for her to return.
We get a lot of calls about “abandoned” fawns. If you know the mother has been killed (in a car accident, etc.), the fawns will need to be taken to a rehab facility.
If the fawn is alone and curled up, it is best to leave it alone. Leave the immediate area. You can watch from a distance with binoculars for mom to come back. Remember, deer have good noses and they detect movement easily. If the mom knows you are there, she won’t come back.
Signs that the fawn is in distress are bleeding, it has flies or ants on it, it is panting or sprawled out instead of curled up, its ears are pinned back instead of standing up and, of course, if it is laying next to a deceased doe. In these cases, the fawn needs help. Contact the DNR or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for direction and assistance.
Roadways are an obvious threat to fawns. Another common threat are dogs. Dogs naturally chase things and fawns can be the object of their chase. Fawns are typically not very fast and most dogs can easily catch them. Please be mindful of this, and if you have deer in the area, keep your dogs under closer control during this critical birthing time for the deer. If your dogs catch a fawn and it is injured, it will need to be taken to a wildlife vet or licensed rehabilitator.
If you contain a fawn for the DNR or a rehabilitator, drop a pin or make a note of exactly where you found it. Keep people, dogs and children away from the fawn.
Do not try to feed the fawn or give it water unless directed to by the rehabilitator. Giving it the wrong food may cause serious health problems.
Place the fawn in a closed container, like a dog kennel, and cover it with cloth so it is not exposed to outside activities. Get it to the rehabber as soon as possible.
Fawns are adorable. Raising them as pets is illegal and generally ends very badly. Fawns raised by untrained humans lose the natural fears that keep them alive so they can never be released back into the wild.
If you have questions or concerns, please call a rehabber or the DNR before picking up the fawn so they can give you good advice about how to handle the little one.
Our wildlife is such a beautiful part of our community. Hopefully, these little tips will help us help these mamas successfully raise their little baby fawns.
Julie Dickie is a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator in northern Minnesota. Her nonprofit organization, Northwoods Wildlife Rescue, captures and releases all manner of wounded creatures. Julie and her husband, Jeff, are unpaid volunteers.