Some fun facts about fawns

FAWNS are being born at this time of year after a seven month gestation period. And with new spring vegetation sprouting all over the place filling forests and grasslands with green leaves, wildlife babies will find places to hide, their mothers will more easily find a wider variety of foods, and young fawns will nurse on milk rich in protein, fat and other ingredients contained in the colostrum to help the youngster get off to a healthy start.

This past week a friend called to say that a newly born deer fawn was in his backyard. A binocular view inspection confirmed his suspicion. But there was no apparent sighting of the mother deer nearby. He knew that the doe deer was likely to be close, just hidden from view. That is when I received a phone call describing the situation. My advice, let well enough alone, observe from a distance, and give the doe deer time to do her thing. She would return to feed her newborn.

Thinking that this might be a good opportunity for images using a long range 400 mm lens, I proceeded toward the location. Only half way there, my phone rang. The report was excellent, the best case scenario possible, and the most likely scenario played out time and time again far away from public viewing. The doe deer had always been nearby. She returned and had to reveal herself as she approached the fawn. The fawn that had been lying down and almost hidden by tall grasses, got up and began feeding on mother’s milk. In short order, the two walked away into thicker cover.This is just as it is supposed to happen.

MYTH #1: A fawn is abandoned because there is no doe in sight. You need to know that most people do a lot of looking and don’t see anything. They too quickly scan an area, jump to conclusions and perhaps panic. Well, let’s examine this a bit closer. What self respecting doe deer is going to make herself visible and vulnerable to any potential predator by just standing around close to her babies? Answer … this is not nature’s way. The simple fact is that a doe deer will not draw attention to herself or her fawn, a predator avoidance strategy. Fawns spend their first three to four weeks hiding before they routinely follow their mothers. Doe deer vocalize to help their young respond to her approach. Soft and very subtle grunts will be recognized by the fawn. It will respond by standing and running to its mother.

MYTH #2: Fawns are odorless. This is false, as their unique scent is how mothers identify them. In fact, young deer will urinate on their tarsal glands (seen as dark hair patches on the inside of the hind legs) daily, even when a few days old. Avoiding predators is primarily a matter of lying very still in tall grassy or brushy cover if and when predator is cruising nearby.

MYTH #3: A set of twins are always from the same father. This is also false. Research has documented that about 25 percent of all sets of twins come from different fathers. And, as noted in the cutline of today’s photo, a case of triplet paternity was determined by DNA testing to have been sired by three different buck deer. At several university research programs, fawn survival rates and what type of predation, if any, may take them out was the focus of these studies. Radio collared doe deer were tracked to the spot or area where she gave birth. The fawns were located, tagged, blood samples taken, weighed and other health data collected before release. Some of the fawns were also fitted with small radio locator systems so that if the signal indicated it had died, researchers could find the carcass and investigate what happened. During all the handling of the fawns by human researchers, all the fawns were readily re-united with their mothers to carry on with life.

MYTH #4:There are more female fawns born than males. Again false. The fact is that male fawns tend to outnumber female by a slight margin. This fact holds true for many other wildlife species, not just deer.

MYTH #5: Once you pick up a fawn, its mother will not take it back. Not true again. Research has shown that handling a fawn, even for a few moments, has no impact on whether its mother will accept it. First off, don’t pick up the fawn. But if you did, just return it to the place you found it. The next thing for humans to do is nothing. Or if you insist on watching, do so from a long distance with binoculars. During my working years at the Conservation Board, numerous calls would refer to this type of situation. My advice for the best outcome, leave the wildlife baby alone. I have on occasion come across a fawn in a vulnerable situation. One was a newborn in the middle of the Sand Road. Its little feet had slipped on the hard surface and it was lying there spread-legged as if it was on an icy surface. I stopped, picked it up, and carried to the field edge. When I set the fawn down on firm ground, I heard the doe deer snorting from somewhere inside the forest. The fawn scampered off toward the sound.

Here are some other fawn facts for you. A fawn weighs on average sever pounds at birth. They are members of the Cervidae family that includes mule deer, black-tailed deer, moose, elk and caribou. Male members of this family grow antlers and the antlers are shed after the rutting and breeding season is over. New antlers regrow each year. Antlers are not horns. Horns are not shed for members of the Bovidae family. Horn is made of keratin. Antlers are true bone.

Female deer lick clean their newborns and in so doing the mother and fawn learn to recognize the unique smells of each other. Fawns also imprint on their mothers, a vision recognition tactic so that the young deer learns the skills needed from its mother to enhance survival. Doe deer can track the scent trail of a fawn or fawns by the special odors left behind in each fawn’s footsteps. An interdigital scent gland between the toes of the deer leave behind faint chemical signatures. There are 46 scent-emitting chemicals in those secretions and each has a different rate of evaporation. Bio-chemical analysis of deer urine has found 63 compounds in female urine and only 55 in male deer urine. A deer’s nose knows what is going on in its whitetail world.

Lastly, a doe deer having her first pregnancy will give birth to one fawn. For the rest of her life span, about 7 to 10 years, she will have twin fawns as a standard for white-tailed deer. Adult does may have triplets in about 10 to 15 percent of the cases.

q q q

Tomorrow is MEMORIAL DAY. Make sure to pay due diligence, honor and appreciation to family members who have passed away. And a special tribute is also required for military folks, past, present and future. We are truly fortunate in the United States to have you servicing in the defense of this nation. A heart-felt salute to hereby rendered from this author. Keep up the good work.

For the rest of your long weekend, many of you will participate in outdoor activities. The traditional camping season gets underway at this time of year. Every weekend between now and Labor Day may find county, city or state campgrounds in high demand. For details about any outdoor activity in county park areas, call the Marshall County Conservation Board on Tuesday at 752-5490. Get a brochure describing local parks, wildlife areas, forests, prairies or trails where you can pursue outdoor adventures.

q q q

FREE FISHING WEEKEND is June 2-4. Every year the DNR waives the rules on fishing licenses as part of a sales incentive to get people to a pond, lake, or river to go fishing. Yes, creel limits are still in effect if those rules apply to the body of water you happen to be at. Otherwise, no license is needed to show to a state conservation officer. Officers will be out and about checking on people to keep tabs on conduct of boaters, use of life preservers, safe speeds on the water, and use of designated boat drivers, all for safety reasons. Having fun outdoors does not allow for careless behavior.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.