How to Help Fawns This Spring
Every spring WildCare admits a number of animals, usually fawns and baby jackrabbits, 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 2018 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 is to determine if the baby actually needs our care. Click or scroll down for more information on how to determine if a fawn actually needs rescue!
Case in point, the fawn in the photo to the right 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 email@example.com.
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 were able to determine that this fawn was fine, and is 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 the video below, she was walking up to people and crying, clearly in distress. Once she was at WildCare, the baby’s obvious dehydration made diagnosis easy. Her empty belly, dry mouth and poor hydration that indicated she hadn’t been fed for a while. Something must have happened to her mother, leaving this spotted fawn an orphan.
Watch in the video below as WildCare’s Clinic Manager Brittany Morse offers the fawn an electrolyte solution from a bottle. The electrolyte solution isn’t sweetened and it doesn’t taste particularly good, so it’s only a very thirsty fawn that will suck it down as this baby does. This fawn will stay at WildCare until she can be transferred to our friends at Fawn Rescue where she will grow up with other fawns until she is ready to be released back to the wild.
How do you know if a wild animal needs your help? The Five Cs!
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 24-hour Emergency Hotline at 415-456-7283 for assistance and advice.
However, especially in the case of fawns, not seeing any of the Five Cs may indicate the animal does not actually need to be rescued! A fawn’s primary defense mechanism is to stay completely still and quiet, nestled into whatever spot his mother placed him 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 is a healthy fawn.
Mother deer know that their presence near their babies alerts predators to the fawns’ 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’ 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 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 a fawn.
You should be worried if you see a fawn acting contrary to this normal behavior. If a fawn is up and walking around by himself, or is crying, call WildCare immediately at 415-456-SAVE (7283).
This recording is useful for more than tugging at the heartstrings! It has a very specific purpose— to assist WildCare in reuniting healthy “kidnapped” fawns with their mothers.
If a mother deer is nearby and hears her baby crying, she will usually come running. But, as you know, a healthy fawn knows his best self-defense is to stay still and quiet.
So a fawn being carried by Wildlife Hospital volunteers back to where he was found figures he’d best stay as quiet as possible until the predators (us!) go away. When attempting the reunite, the recorder playing the cry is left near the fawn while the people step away to observe from a distance. It is a very effective tool that will often bring the mother deer quickly.
Fortunately, it is a complete myth that a mother wild animal won’t accept her baby if he has human scent on him (it’s not true about birds either!), so a mother deer attracted by crying calls will immediately take her baby back and lead him to a safer spot.
WildCare receives dozens of calls a week during fawn season from concerned people who find the little animals in their yards. With every caller, our Hotline Operators run through the Five Cs. If the answer to any question is yes, they usually ask the caller to bring the fawn to WildCare. If the answer is no to all 5 Cs, our operators will instruct the caller to leave the baby alone.
In the past two years, WildCare and the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) have teamed up in a joint public awareness campaign to keep baby animals from being kidnapped this spring, but also to make sure babies in need actually get the care they need.
MMWD commissioned a wonderful poster to be distributed and hung in multiple locations informing people of the Five Cs and the need to make sure a fawn really needs help before touching her. Click for the poster.
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 mockingbird 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!
Donate today to help us provide care for injured and orphaned fawns! When a fawn comes to the Wildlife Hospital, she may need diagnostic tests like radiographs (x-rays) or blood work to make sure she’s healthy. She’ll certainly need immediate warmth and hydration until she can go into Foster Care with Fawn Rescue.
Your donation of any amount makes care for these wonderful spotted babies possible!