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The Roving Sportsman… Fawn Facts

This week marks the beginning of summer. Thursday, June 20, to be exact, is the official transition, and it seems like the mix of spring-like and fall-like weather that we have been having is finally being replaced by warmer days and clearer skies. Along with the change in weather comes the recent birthing of this year’s crop of whitetail fawns.

The rut, or breeding period, for whitetail deer in Pennsylvania occurs in the month of November. Following a gestation period of about 202 days, the fawns are born. Single fawns and twins are normal, with the occasional birth of triplets. The birth of fawns tends to occur over a week or so during the phase of a new moon (also referred to as the “dark of the moon”). By dropping the newborns during the new moon, when the nights are almost pitch black, the chance of predation is at its lowest. In contrast, if a fawn is born closer to a full moon, the increased light and, thus, visibility makes it much more susceptible to predation.

The most recent new moon occurred on Thursday, June 6, and as a result, there are increasing reports of sightings of newly born fawns. This is also the time of year when there is an increase in highway fatalities of young bucks. Last year’s fawns will travel with the mother until this time of year. If she is pregnant, she will chase away the year-old bucks in preparation for devoting her time and attention to the newborn fawn. The result is an unfortunate increase in highway deaths of the young bucks — since they no longer benefit from their mother’s guidance.

Just last spring, I had the pleasant opportunity to witness the birth of a fawn. I watched the entire event out the kitchen window as the doe gave birth in the backyard! Within a few short minutes, the fawn was standing, and a short time later, she was unsteadily walking behind her! Their initial unsteadiness vanishes in just a few days as they gain strength and agility. It is not long until we can watch in amazement as they run back and forth helter-skelter with what seems like boundless energy!

Over the next several weeks, those who spend time outdoors will likely come across newly born birds and mammals. Folks just out for a hike will have good odds of spotting one of these young deer – usually curled up and lying still to avoid predation. During the initial phase of a newly born fawn’s life, it has no scent. This helps prevent predation during this early phase while it develops the strength in its legs to (hopefully) outrun any predators that cross its path. By the time it develops its scent, it should have the strength and stamina to outrun anything that is looking at it for its next meal.

Among all of its predators, the black bear takes more fawns every spring than any of the others. This is a fact that many have difficulty accepting, but studies here in Pennsylvania and other states support that fact. For those of you who spend time in the outdoors, you may have wondered why you have more black bear sightings this time of year. It is because they are out cruising fields and woodlots in search of fawns, and they will do so in daylight hours and nighttime.

What should one do if you came across a fawn in the wild? First, realize that it is NOT abandoned. There is little doubt that the mother is nearby – hiding and watching you from a safe distance. Once you leave, she will return to feed and care for her young. So, enjoy watching for a few moments, take pictures if you want, but don’t stay too long and don’t get too close. The last thing you want to do is frighten the fawn from its bed only to be spotted by a nearby predator!

Whether you spot a young bird that has fallen from its nest or you come across a fawn that is curled up in the tall grass, don’t panic and feel you need to intercede. The mother is nearby and will take proper care of her young once you have left the area.