What to do with found fawn deer

ESCANABA — Spring in the north country is a trying time for many whitetailed deer, especially the does that are nearing the end of their gestational period in preparation to give birth. It all evolves around the amount of daylight versus weather conditions, where the metabolic state of deer is rapidly changing out of the winter browse mode and occupancy in thermal-cover habitat.

Wildlife biologist John Ozoga worked most of his career at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Cusino Research Facility in the Upper Peninsula. Cusino, located east of Munising in Shingleton, was a one mile section of land fenced off with a measured population of deer and all maintained for the purpose of research. The work done at Cusino under the guidance of Ozoga compiled unprecedented data on anatomy, philosophy and habitual nature of deer, with colleagues Robert V. Doepker and Mark S. Sargent, that remains today as the fundamental baseline in considering the models used for management as Wildlife Division Report #3209 – The Ecology and Management of Whitetailed Deer in Michigan.

Ozoga went on to write and conspire with wildlife and wilderness photographer Daniel J. Cox in publishing the book Whitetail Country. The information and illustrations appeal to readers as deer enthusiasts away from the dry collection of data seen in most research journals, yet provides enough detailed information to help thoroughly understand the species.

In his work, Ozoga explains that, “In spring, with the increasing daylight, the deer’s metabolic rate increases, does are in the final stages of gestation, young animals resume body growth, and adult bucks start growing antlers. It’s a time when a high quality diet is essential to both survival and reproductive success.” Deer are often seen gathered in places like farm fields that hold or are showing new growth of grasses and herbaceous plants. They are returning to places which “green-up” earlier than the surrounding forest. Much of this behavior occurs as deer migrate, some great distances, along established routes en-route to summer range. Fawns follow adult does and acquire their habitual behavior often returning to the same areas year after year. There are some instances where the young are separated from the family group and fend for themselves in unfamiliar territory where they will eventually return through the rest of their life cycle.

There is little variance to the routine, however, according to Ozoga, “the severity of the previous winter and the conditions present in spring will play a major role in fawn survival. Poor nutrition during spring has a devastating impact after a severe winter, when deer are already stressed. Abnormally small-bodied adult deer, stunted bucks with small antlers, and high mortality rates among newborn fawns may be the result of inadequate nutrition during this time period. It adds to the situations where fawn mortality exists due to being stillborn and/or death caused from failure to thrive. Add to that the instances of predation and accidental deaths caused by falls, drowning, hit by automobile and agricultural equipment, as much as 75 percent of fawns perish after birth each year.

The MDNR annually publishes an advisory each spring to help those who may find healthy newborn fawns huddled and still in obscure places. “When fawns are born, they’re not very mobile and don’t appear to have much scent to them so their best defense is to just stay still, on their own, apart from their mother. Predators can’t track them down by following mom around, so she stays away and the fawns stay alone — that’s their best defense during their first days of life. It is in these instances that humans have a tendency to intervene in thinking the fawns may be abandoned,” according to the advisory.

The doe determines what she feels is a safe place to stash a fawn. It can be nearby a house or structure, in a flower bed or under a porch or deck. So people think it’s a weird place to place a fawn so it must be abandoned (orphaned). According to the MDNR, “Generally they’re not orphaned. Through those first few weeks, mom will feed them, clean them, check up on them, then take off again so she’s not drawing attention to them. So we encourage people to let them be.”

There are times when newborn fawns are found in close proximity to a road killed doe and are truly orphaned. There is a natural tendency in human kindness to collect the fawn and take them into your home. The MDNR reminds everyone that first, this is illegal and, secondly, it is in the best interest of the fawn to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if you feel the need to intervene. More importantly, those who might want to hold and provide nutrition to an orphaned fawn may cause more harm than good. The fawn’s ability to receive food sources beyond what it would receive by nursing from the mother could itself cause death. Most often, a lamb’s milk replacer is used as substitute for the doe. Even with that use, those who hold an orphaned fawn and attempt to raise it in a pen or pet-like arrangement find them to be problematic as they mature. If returned to the wild after being habituated to humans, they generally do not do well when returned to the wild.

Anyone can access direct information on where a licensed rehabilitation center closest by your area is located by going on line at www.michigandnr.com/dlr. If no nearby agency is available by this source, contact the MDNR local field office for assistance.

It is important to understand that odds against fawn survival are already high. Humans can unwittingly compound the problem in not understanding the natural affect employed by nature. Please, leave wildlife alone.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.