Because white-tailed deer typically give birth to fawns in the months of May and June, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued an announcement this week cautioning the public against assuming that finding a baby animal means it is in need of rescue.
Though the announcement pertained to baby animals of all species, DEM focused primarily on instructions regarding what to do if somebody sees a fawn without its mother, something the department receives several concerned calls about each year.
Dylan Ferreira, a wildlife biologist in DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, explained that it is almost never the case that fawns have been abandoned, but, rather, the result of a fawn being incapable of following the mother five to seven days after being born.
“In nature, the mother deer gives birth and for the next five to seven days, the fawn is incapable of following the mother, so it is natural for the fawn to lie in a curled ‘freeze’ position on the ground hidden in grass or sparse brush,” Ferreira said. “At this time, fawns can be approached and handled with little resistance.”
“Sometimes, however, well-intentioned people will assume the fawn is abandoned and take it home to ‘save’ it from predators or domestic animals,” he added.
While it might seem otherwise, he said, the fawns have not actually been abandoned.
“In fact, the doe will often be nearby out of sight and will only come to the fawn a few times during the day or after dark to feed the fawn,” Ferreira continued. “If you see a baby fawn in this condition, please leave it alone. The mother will return to feed the baby.”
According to DEM, the fawn may run when approached after seven to 10 days, and after a month will be able to follow and feed alongside the mother.
In the meantime, interference by people handling and taking fawns from the wild during this process can often irreparably harm the young deer. The fawn should only be considered abandoned if there is a dead doe found nearby or on the road.
Ferreira went on to say that, if you should find a fawn, “the best thing to do is immediately leave the area and avoid creating any disturbance near it.”
As counterintuitive as it might seem, he said, the fawns “do not need your help.”
“Fawns are well camouflaged and have very little scent helping to protect it from predators,” he explained.
DEM also cautioned that fawns generally lie motionless when approached by a predator, a behavioral adaptation to help it survive. And because the doe-fawn bond is very strong, it should be put back near the location where it was found or next to natural vegetation to provide some protection, even if the fawn has been handled.
Though rare, a fawn may also approach people or pets.
If this occurs, the DEM announcement states, the fawn should be “gently coaxed back down into the grass by pressing down on its shoulders as its mother would.”
“Then, DEM advises the public to immediately leave the area,” the announcement reads. “Do not wait to see if the doe returns as she will avoid the area until the disturbance passes. She will return to search and care for the missing fawn once the area is clear of people and pets.”
The department also stated that fawns cannot be kept as pets and removing a deer from the wild and keeping it in captivity is illegal in Rhode Island. If fawns are removed from the wild, they will often suffer malnutrition and behavioral changes.
Any fawn obviously injured by a pet, vehicle or farm equipment should be reported directly to the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 401-789-0281.