My View

My View: Awestruck by a fawn

July 24, 2013 

I wasn’t prepared for his beauty.

We all respond to babies. Be they kittens, rabbits, or humans, we are programmed to protect and enjoy an infant. So I was, not surprisingly, awestruck by the beauty of a fawn.

I had come to the site to check on the condition of this young fawn, little more than a day old, at the request of my friend, Bettie Hotong. Bettie is a good, watchful mom, and she became worried when she saw a tiny fawn lying helpless and visible on a neighbor’s lawn. When I arrived, the fawn had already made a short move to the relative quiet of the leaf litter in the neighbor’s backyard.

At first, I could not locate him. I used my telephoto lens to scan the leaves in the berm. Eventually, my eyes fell on a tiny brown form, curled like a resting cat in the yard.

A newborn fawn weighs about as much as a house cat. It is a mere eight pounds of bone and fur topped by an outsized pair of winglike ears. Upon seeing him, I thought that he might actually be small enough to fit tucked within a large shoebox.

At 2 days old, a fawn is still unsteady on his long legs. The only clear instinct he has is to lie still and curled on the ground. He will not run from predators. Camouflage and silence are his defenses. He carries no scent and is protected only by this newborn innocence.

The color of a fawn is astonishing. The face and chest are soft beige, but the hue brightens to a saturated red brown on his back. The white spots are vivid and appear quite large on such a tiny frame. This is called a “disruptive” camouflage pattern. The markings are bold, but they are thought to mimic the look of leaves on the ground when they mix with spots of sunlight on the forest floor.

What a gorgeous creature! Had Cruella De Vil seen this fellow first, the Dalmatian puppies would have been safe. His eyes were deep blue, though the color will gray and darken at the beginning of his second month.

Happily, this was a robust, healthy fawn. Like any infant, he had not yet acquired the critically important fat that babies of all species gain in their first weeks of life. But his legs were tucked properly beneath him, his head was flat against the ground, his eyes were clear, and he showed no signs of distress. It is this posture and frail appearance that scares people, but it is perfectly normal. He was pristinely beautiful – unmarred by dirt, blemish, or exposure to the world.

You may wonder why a doe would leave her tiny fawn unprotected in a suburban yard, but the doe had chosen her spot wisely. This particular yard was attached to a house that had been sold. There were no tenants or dogs in the yard. The forest was nearby, but its edge is so close to the development that an intrusion by a coyote was unlikely.

Just the week before, my friend Martin Brody had sent me a photo of a newborn fawn that had been left for safety in his open garage. Martin and his wife, Catherine, are very sympathetic to these wildlife intrusions, so they simply did not use their car for a couple of days. Eventually, the fawn was strong enough to keep pace with its mother, and it moved away from the property.

The mother deer does everything possible to ensure the safety of her fawn. After the fawn is birthed, she eats the placenta, which gives her added nutrition to produce rich doe milk and also removes the scent of blood from the area. She then moves the fawn a short distance to a resting spot. The doe regularly eats any feces produced by the fawn in order to avoid leaving a scent that might draw a predator to the area. At this stage, the fawn is not strong enough, or fast enough, to travel with the herd; so the mother keeps a watchful eye, and makes visits to nurse and groom the tiny newborn.

What can we do to help?

The best course of action is to stay as far away as possible. The doe will not visit her fawn if a predator is in the vicinity, and sadly, we are seen as predators. We should never chase the fawn to “get it moving” to the forest. This could expose the fawn to multiple dangers: predation, loss of location from its mother and stress on the newborn. All are threats when we interfere with the successful rearing techniques used by our whitetail deer.

If you happen to see a newborn fawn in your yard, keep the pets away and only view it with a pair of binoculars. Otherwise, you will leave your scent on the fawn, which could make the doe wary about returning. Fawns are routinely handled on deer farms, but our whitetails are wild animals.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. It is time to call a rescue facility if the fawn calls for over an hour without receiving a response from its mother. If the fawn is lying down with its legs outstretched at its side, there may be a problem. Remember, if the new fawn senses danger, it will stop and drop to the ground immediately, relying on that camouflage instinct to keep it safe. He may drop in an awkward way and look ungainly, but he is healthy.

I had only been with the newborn for about a minute when I noticed a young doe eyeing me from the periphery of the forest. It was time to leave the fawn with his mother. She was well able to care for him.

Two days later, I returned for a brief visit, and all was well for our blue-eyed baby. Perhaps next year, he will be one of the crew that decimates the Hostas in my backyard. Not such a bad loss, I suppose.

Sincere thanks to Bettie Hotong for presenting this opportunity to photograph a newborn fawn.

Mary Sonis is a naturalist, photographer and writer in Carrboro. You can contact Mary at msonis@nc.rr.com

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