drone picture of a doe with 2 new born fawns in a hay field

White-tailed deer are social creatures. It is rare to see just one deer. And even if you can only spot one deer, there are probably more you just can’t see. The basic social unit is a doe, her yearling offspring, and her of-the-year fawns. Because deer do not have territories, there are many multi-generational family groups in the same area. Adult does and adult bucks do not a hang with one another unless there is a reason, which is mating season. Other than that, they can’t be bothered to keep each other’s company and, in fact, don’t even share the same areas. 

For the majority of the year, these family groups coexist with each other and other family groups without much strife. The one exception is fawning season. Pregnant females don’t want any company. Just prior to giving birth, she will drive her yearling offspring away. This triggers the first wave of dispersal among yearlings. 

But it’s not just yearlings. Pregnant does have it out for any deer in the area and remember multiple adult does can share the same home range or at least parts. The video shared with us shows a very pregnant doe and another perhaps recently fawned adult doe having words.

Courtesy of Kevin Myers

She does this of course to protect her investment. Bonding with her fawn is required for its survival and that takes time. For mom, that occurs quickly – within 2 days. But for fawns, it takes longer – days or even weeks for some species. Fawns instinctively approach and follow a doe. The younger they are, the more likely they will be to follow any large object until imprinting is complete. Excessive disturbance of the doe and fawn during the first 2 days of life can lead to breakdown of this bond and may result in death of the fawn. 

drone picture of a doe with 2 new born fawns in a hay field
Photo Credit Travis Hench

So if you come across a scene like this, about face and hightail it out of there. Respect that much needed alone time that every mother requires. You don’t want to be responsible for the death of all that cuteness. 

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PA Game Commission

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