Leave fawns where they lay

It’s the annual time to remind residents of the region to leave the fawns they might find alone.

The first week of June usually is near peak for fawns to be born in the Upper Peninsula. Like most prey species, deer tend to give birth at about the same time, a natural strategy that means predators can only pick off a limited number in those first few vulnerable weeks.

With this spring wave comes the inevitable reports of fawns supposedly discovered “abandoned” by their mothers. The pattern tends to be the same: a fawn found motionless and pressed to the ground, no doe in sight despite a steady human vigil for mom.

Wildlife rehabilitator Phyllis Carlson of Quinnesec already has gotten more than a dozen calls about fawns in the past week. Her standard answer: Leave the fawn where it lies and back off.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources agrees. It is normal, the DNR advises, in the first few weeks after birth for fawns to be left alone by mom, concealed, in secluded locations. A fawn’s spots are excellent camouflage that help it stay hidden from predators, according to the DNR.

The doe will return to nurse its fawn during the day but otherwise stays away so it doesn’t tip predators off where the fawn might be, as young fawns have little scent to otherwise draw bears or coyotes. If the doe has twins, it might even leave the two at different locations so if it loses one, the other will evade detection.

So, humans who discover a fawn on their property should take it as a compliment the doe considers it a safe place — and, respecting that trust, walk away. Don’t pet the fawn, don’t pose with it, don’t let the grandkids cuddle up for photos. Deer can be fatally overstressed by handling.

Don’t keep checking on the fawn or hover nearby watching for the doe — she’ll be less likely to come back if she senses someone is near.

Do keep pets inside, no matter how friendly or gentle or cute you think the interaction might be. While it might seem a moment made for Disney or Instagram, the ending can be very bad.

In some cases, intervention might be demanded, such as the doe obviously is deceased, the fawn is in a location that puts it at immediate risk or it has an obvious injury. But those are rare. Humans should think twice — and try to call a better authority — before deciding a fawn should be rescued like a puppy or kitten. Most humans, no matter how well-intentioned, aren’t prepared to meet the specific dietary demands of many wild animals. This is one instance in which trying to help in most cases has the exact opposite effect.

And for those who think stepping in is better safe than sorry — keep in mind only a limited number of wildlife rehabilitators accept fawns and the average person can’t legally keep a fawn. Carlson, for example, does not have facilities for fawns and knows of no one who does.

Parts of Wisconsin that have chronic wasting disease actually prohibit keeping fawns; they’re left to their own fate. Dickinson County last fall became the first to have a positive CWD case in the Upper Peninsula, so that’s another consideration.

Cold truth is nature cranks out a lot of fawns each spring, not all of which are intended to survive.

So, difficult as it might be, fight the urge to step in — leave these young animals in the wild where they belong.

For more information, go to Michigan.gov/Wildlife or contact DNR Wildlife Division at 517-284-9453.


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