SAMUEL: How fawns survive


Is there anything cuter than a newborn fawn?  Seems sad that roughly half of all fawns die before they are 6 months old.  No question that during those first six months there is a lot going on in a fawns life.  

The latest issue of Quality Whitetails magazine has several articles that focus on fawns.  This magazine is the Journal of the National Deer Association.  Google their name and become a member and subscribe to this magazine for $35 a year.  If you hunt deer, you will be glad you joined.  

Kip Adams has forgotten more about whitetail biology than most of us can learn in a lifetime.  His article on fawn mortality was fascinating and informative.  Does and their newborn fawns have a number of behaviors that allows them to dodge death from predators.  For example, the time they are born.  Most in our area are born in early June.   Those born earlier may not weigh enough to be in the best health when born. Those born later won’t be mature enough to survive an early winter.  So, early June is good for the fawns.  

During the first two weeks of the fawns life, does and fawns utilize several behaviors that protect fawns from predators.  For example, during this period, fawns do not urinate nor defecate.  To do so could attract predators.  They’ve evolved a unique behavior where the doe licks the fawn’s genital and anal regions to stimulate them to release their wastes.  The doe then consumes the urine and feces to prevent those odors from attracting predators.    

Early in life the fawns nurse, then leave their mothers and bed down alone.  They stay alone for a few hours or up to 12 hours while the mother goes off to feed.  This is when the fawns are most susceptible to human predation.  Yes, this is when well-meaning people pick up fawns that they believe are abandoned.  Abandonment at these times is rare, and when the fawn is removed, the doe comes back and can’t find her fawn.  Taking fawns is illegal and pretty much guarantees its death.  

A few weeks ago my daughter (Jennifer) had a fawn bed behind her patio in Greystone all day till dark.  The next morning the fawn was gone.  I told her that the doe had returned and got her fawn.  Last week that same fawn was bedded again almost in the same spot.  This time the doe returned in several hours.  

Why do I think it was the same fawn.  First, it was left in the same spot.  Secondly, Jennifer had photos from both occurrences that showed the patterning of spots on the fawns back.  They were identical.  An article in Quality Whitetails reports on a Mississippi study that shows that such spot patterning tends to be genetically controlled. 

Back to fawn bedding.  The doe doesn’t take the fawn to its bedding site, but rather to a general location.  This reduces odor in the bedded area, again to reduce predation.  When she returns for her fawn, she calls, and the fawn responds and goes to the mom to nurse, then they may hide again.  Fawns hold tight when humans or predators come close.  They haven’t heard the mother call.  Neat adaptation for survival.  

Here’s some trivia for you.  There’s a common myth that fawns have no odor and this is how they “hide” from predators.   Of course all animals have scent, including fawns.  The mothers eat the feces early on to reduce fawn scent, but it’s still there.  Another myth is that touching a fawn will prevent the mother from coming back for that fawn because there’s human odor on that fawn.    Of course that isn’t true.   If it was true, then all the newborn puppies and kittens would be abandoned, as would calves, and any wild animal.  Doesn’t happen.