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* Whitetail Fawns

Another Generation Begins….
                                                              By DHenry

With the end of another spring, we are about to witness one of the more interesting events in the life cycle of white-tailed deer.  Fawn birth or “fawn drop” is set to occur in the next several weeks and many folks will encounter a new born fawn and marvel at the mystery and beauty of these resilient animals.

The annual birth of fawns in our area typically peaks during the first week in June, although some are born in early May, while others may not come into this world until August.  The does have a gestation period that lasts for an average of about 205 days, and is the result of the frenzied courtship and breeding behaviors that we witnessed last fall while deer hunting.  Fawns in New York can weigh between four and eight pounds at birth, with the males typically being the heavier ones. However, newborn fawns lack stamina, body strength and coordination and as a result are not very mobile for the first couple of weeks of their life. Fortunately they are born at a season of the year when natural vegetation has its highest level of nutrition.

Their protection from predation at this young age comes from several sources. Fawns are born almost scentless at birth and the does initially spend very little time in close quarters with their offspring. They avoid leaving scent where they have hidden their fawns and that is a key factor in fawn survival.  Does will briefly nurse their fawns four to six times a day and then keep watch from afar, hoping to lure away any predator intent upon a fawn meal. Fawns have a functional digest system at about 6 weeks of age and can begin to partake of vegetation. However over time, residual scent from nursing will increase and after several weeks the newborn fawns will have acquired enough strength and mobility to accompany the doe.  Additionally, most of the predators that prey upon fawns lack good color vision. Fawns have 250 to 300 white spots on their bodies, helping them resemble the mottled sunlight on the forest floor and blend in with landscape. The spots are typically gone by September, although you can occasionally see remnants of light spots after their first molt in the fall. If you should encounter a fawn when their mobility is limited, it is best to enjoy it from afar and leave no trail of your own scent near it.

Fawn mortality can have an impact on overall herd recruitment.  An excellent fawn survival study was conducted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 2000-2001 and yielded some very interesting results. College students captured over 200 newborn fawns in good deer habitat by walking in an extended line during peak fawn drop each spring with large landing nets. Each captured fawn was equipped with a radio collar, which also included a mortality signal that activated if a fawn died. There were two habitat types, semi-open agricultural lands and forested lands, included in this research.

At nine weeks of age, fawns in the agricultural habitat had a 72% survival rate, while fawns in the forested habitat had only a 57% survival rate. Furthermore, at 34 weeks after birth, fawns in the agricultural habitat had 53% survival and fawns in the forested habitat had a 37% survival rate. Overall, predation accounted for 46% of the total mortalities through the first 34 weeks. Interestingly predation was heavier by coyotes in the agricultural areas and higher by black bears in the forested habitats. For more information on this research see: 

Every spring, well-meaning people discover fawns that they believe that they are “abandoned or orphaned”.  In almost all of these instances, this is not the case. Rather, they are witnessing the natural cycle of does raising newborn fawns from afar with limited contact until the fawns are able to keep up with their mother. The best thing to do when you encounter a fawn this spring is to enjoy the fawn from a distance. Human scent can readily help lead a predator to his next meal.  Approaching the newborn fawn could easily leave enough scent near its hiding spot and result in its demise.


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