Fawns’ Survival Chances Are Best When Left Alone

By Arkansas Game and Fish

First posted on 05-28-2009

It’s a fairly common occurrence in late spring and summer most anywhere in Arkansas. Someone finds a deer fawn alone and asks, “What should I do”?

Wildlife biologists for years have had a standard answer – do nothing. The mother is nearby and will return to care for the baby.

Sara Caulk lives in the Mount Sequoyah section of Fayetteville, and recently spotted a fawn apparently just a few days old lying in grass near her home. She didn’t approach it but went on the Internet for advice. And she got plenty of that.

A retired wildlife biologist suggested just leaving the fawn where it was. Caulk contacted Ruth Ann Chapman, a private lands biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission who lives in Washington County. Chapman echoed the advice of leaving the fawn alone, that the mother was probably out of sight nearby.

Caulk did as suggested, and she watched the clock. Twenty-six hours after she first saw the fawn in the tall grass, the mother came back to take care of the baby. The fawn was only about 18 inches high, Caulk said, but apparently in good condition.

She added, “The mom and baby are hanging out in our ‘back 40’ so we catch a glimpse of the little guy from time to time. With the rain that we’ve had, the underbrush has grown to such depths that it’s over the baby’s head in most places, and we’re two benches up from where they usually hang out. At least there’s plenty of browse for mom to stay healthy.”

Wildlife biologists suggest not picking up or handling a baby deer found in the wild. It is a myth that the mother will abandon the baby if human smell is present, but moving the fawn to a supposedly safer location can interfere with the mother’s finding it again.

In nearly all cases, the mother deer is close at hand to a baby deer, although the mother can easily hide from human view. A fawn nurses several times a day, with the mother going off to forage for food in between. An indicator of a fawn’s condition is if it is lying in the grass with its head up, it probably is all right.

A possible exception to the leave-alone advice form biologists is when there is clear evidence that the mother deer is dead, such as from being hit by a vehicle on a road, with the fawn standing forlornly nearby. In this case, the suggestion is to immediately get in touch with a wildlife biologist or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. A list of rehabilitators is on the Internet at http://www.agfc.com

A final bit of advice: If the fawn is truly orphaned, don’t try to feed it cow’s milk. Get it immediately to professional help.