PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is cautioning the public not to assume that finding a baby animal means it needs to be rescued during the late spring and summer, as this is fawning season. A fawn (baby deer) lying on the ground hidden in grass or brush should not be considered abandoned – it should be left alone by people and pets because moving or handling it may permanently separate it from its mother and jeopardize its life.
White-tailed deer give birth to fawns in May and June. Each year, DEM receives many calls about fawns mistaken to have been abandoned by their mother. This is almost never the case.
"In nature, the mother deer gives birth and for the next five to seven days, the fawn is incapable of following the mother, so it is natural for the fawn to lie in a curled 'freeze' position on the ground hidden in grass or sparse brush," said DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Dylan Ferreira. "Sometimes, however, well-intentioned people will assume the fawn is abandoned and take it home to 'save' it from predators or domestic animals. In fact, the doe will often be nearby out of sight and will only come to the fawn a few times during the day or after dark to feed the fawn. If you see a fawn in this condition, please leave it alone. The mother will return to feed it."
After seven to ten days, the fawn may run when approached and after a month will be able to follow and feed alongside the mother. Interference by handling and taking fawns from the wild by people during this process can often doom young deer. If there is no dead doe found nearby or on the road, the fawn is not considered abandoned. (Click here for factsheet.)
If you should find a fawn, the best thing to do is immediately leave the area and avoid creating any disturbance near it. "Fawns should not be handled – and counter-intuitive as it may seem – do not need your help. Fawns are well camouflaged and have very little scent, which helps protect them from predators," explained Ferreira.
Fawns also lie motionless when approached by a predator, a behavioral adaptation to help them survive. The doe-fawn bond is very strong. If you perceive a fawn to be in immediate danger – for example, lying in the middle of a road – first check your surroundings and monitor the scenario from a safe distance. The fawn may move on its own, once you, who the fawn may perceive as a predator, back away from them. If the fawn remains in an unsafe area, please call DEM's Division of Law Enforcement 24-hour dispatch at 401-222-3070 for further guidance.
Rarely, a fawn may approach people or pets. If this occurs, DEM advises the public to immediately leave the area. Do not wait to see if the doe returns as she will avoid the area until the disturbance passes. She will return to search and care for the missing fawn once the area is clear of people and pets.
Fawns cannot be kept as pets and removing a deer from the wild and keeping it in captivity, however well-meaning, is illegal in Rhode Island. Wild deer often do poorly in captivity, suffering malnutrition and behavioral changes as they become habituated to humans. Captive deer also can pose health risks or may become dangerous to people or domestic animals as they mature. Tame deer raised in captivity have trouble returning to the wild as a free-roaming creature as nature intended. Any fawn obviously injured by a pet, vehicle, or farm equipment should be reported directly to the Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island at 401-294-6363.
For more information on when it's appropriate to assist young wildlife and a recording of the Division of Fish and Wildlife's recent outreach program here, visit DEM's YouTube channel.
For more information on DEM programs and services, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@RhodeIsland.DEM).