Baby Jackrabbits and Fawns — the 5 Cs

Baby Jackrabbits and Fawns — the 5 Cs

Every spring WildCare admits a number of animals, usually fawns and baby jackrabbits, but also fledgling birds, that have been “kidnapped” by well-meaning people who found them alone and assumed they needed help. In fact, one in five of the fawns brought to WildCare in 2023 were healthy and were promptly returned to their mothers' care.

While every wildlife rescue is done for the most benevolent of reasons, “kidnapping” a healthy baby can have impacts on the health of both mom and baby.

WildCare's first job when we admit a fawn or jackrabbit is to determine if the baby actually needs our care. Scroll down for more information on how to determine if a fawn actually needs rescue!

Case in point, the fawn in this photo is perfectly healthy. She was led by her mother to curl up on the front porch of a family's home. We think that the mother deer had something of an artistic eye, as the baby's reddish-brown coat and white spots perfectly match the stained wood and spilled gravel on the porch!

The family spotted the fawn and promptly called WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-7283 to see if they should bring the baby to WildCare. They also emailed the photo to

Our Hotline operator was able to tell that the fawn was resting quietly, and that her eyes look bright. Despite the unconventional location of the baby, she and the finder determined that this fawn was fine, and was not in need of rescue. They were correct — a few hours later the mother deer came back and led her baby away.

In the case of the fawn in this photo, however, she was walking up to people and crying, clearly in distress.

Once she was at WildCare, the baby's obvious dehydration made diagnosis easy. An empty belly, dry mouth and sunken eyes indicated she hadn't been fed for a while.

Something must have happened to her mother, leaving this spotted fawn an orphan.

How do you know if a fawn or baby jackrabbit needs your help? The Five Cs!

The first things to look for if you think a wild animal, especially a fawn or jackrabbit, needs rescue are the Five Cs. If an animal demonstrates any of these five symptoms, it is an emergency and he needs immediate help:

1. Is he Crying?

2. Is he Cold?

3. Is he Coming toward you (approaching people)?

4. Is he Covered in fluff (for baby birds) or crawling with blood or insects?

5. Has he been Caught by a cat or a dog?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, immediately call WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-7283 for assistance and advice.

If you don't see any of the 5 Cs, especially in the case of fawns and jackrabbits, the baby animal likely does not actually need to be rescued! These animals' primary defense mechanism is to stay completely still and quiet, nestled into whatever spot their mother placed them while she went off to forage. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness. But it isn't. A still, quiet fawn or jackrabbit is a healthy baby doing what he's supposed to do.

Mother deer and jackrabbits know that their presence near their babies alerts predators to the babies' existence, which puts them at risk. In order to keep her young safe, a doe will leave her fawn in a secluded area, often for as long as 12 hours, distracting predators away from her baby while she forages for food.

Fawns’ and baby jackrabbits' camouflage and their ability to stay still keep them safe from predators while their mother is away. When approached by a perceived predator (humans, pets or wildlife) a fawn’s or jackrabbit's instinctual response is to lay very low and not move at all. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness, but in fact it is healthy behavior for these babies.

You should be worried if you see a fawn or jackrabbit baby acting contrary to this normal behavior. If the little one is up and walking around by himself, or is crying, call WildCare immediately at 415-456-SAVE (7283).

Take the Five Cs Quiz!

The Five Cs are very obvious symptoms that indicate an animal needs help. But sometimes it's not as clear whether your intervention would be in the animal's best interest.

Take a look at some actual scenarios from WildCare's records and see how you would respond:

Scenario 1: A tiny fawn appears one morning on your front porch. She's sitting completely still and isn't making a sound. The baby isn't very well hidden, and there's no sign of the mother deer. Does she need help?

Answer: No! That baby is fine and does not need rescue. Deer, like Jackrabbits, will leave their young alone for up to twelve hours at a time while they forage. The babies know to stay still and quiet, tucked into the spot where their mother left them. Sometimes the mother deer makes a poor choice as to where her baby should spend the daylight hours, but she is probably nearby, and worried that a predator (you!) has discovered her fawn. Leave the fawn alone by removing yourself completely from the scene and eventually Mom will come back to retrieve her baby.

Scenario 2: Last night's wind left a lot of debris in the park where you walk your dog. Your foot dislodges a leaf and underneath you find a small fluff-covered bird. He's alive, but his little belly is cool to the touch. Does he need help?

Answer: Yes! That baby definitely needs to come to WildCare. If a baby is cool or cold, or if he's a baby bird that is still fluff-covered, he's in trouble and needs help immediately.

Scenario 3: The robin hops around the yard with little trouble, but no matter how long you watch him, he doesn't attempt to fly. There are other birds around, but you're worried about neighborhood cats. Does he need help?

Answer: No! That baby is a fledgling, and hopping around without flying is an important part of his maturation process. A fledgling songbird will look like an adult bird, except his tail feathers will be shorter (stubby-looking) and he may have a little baby fluff still on his head. While neighborhood cats are a real hazard to birds of all ages (WildCare encourages cat owners to keep their pets indoors, especially during wildlife baby season), a fledgling bird's parents are on the alert for dangers, and they are actively directing their young one to safety.

They will also continue to feed him. Give fledglings their best chance at success by keeping people and pets away from them during this important part of their development.

How did you do with these scenarios? For more extensive information to help you determine if a wild animal needs rescue, click to read our Wildlife Rescue Guide!