fawn standing alert in forest

Most of the time Mother Nature has a back up plan. And if we (people) don’t get involved or mess things up, her plan is fool proof. 

There was yet another fawn survival study conducted. This time in Michigan. The spin this time was looking at how landscape and physiological characteristics (weight) influenced a fawn’s risk of mortality. Hypotheses included fawns occurring in areas of greater human development would have decreased predation risk but increased anthropogenic mortality risk; fawns in more forested areas would have greater overall mortality risk; and smaller fawns would have greater mortality risk from non-predation natural causes and, to a lesser extent, from predation. 

Can humans save the day by protecting helpless fawns from vicious attacks by coyotes, bears, bobcats, and wolves? 

The short answer is yes. But then we just run over them instead. 

Let’s start broadly. Fawn survival in this study was 47% which is ridiculously similar to the heaps of other fawn survival studies conducted in North America. Predation was the leading cause of mortality followed by non-predation natural mortality and vehicle collision. No surprise there. 

But looking at fawn mortality through the lens of land cover and body mass found that it influenced vulnerability to specific mortality risks, but the result was similar survivorship. E.g., human development reduced fawn predation, but that reduction was compensated by vehicle collisions. So fawns in forested habitats did not have a greater overall mortality risk.

Weight on the other hand did influence mortality risk by increasing non-predator natural mortality regardless of land cover. If you are a tiny bean, the odds are against you no matter where you live. 

It’s tough being a deer mom. If you stay in the woods, your baby might be a snack. If you move to the burbs, your baby might be a road pizza. What’s a mom to do?

Doe walking away from camera with 2 fawns following behind her in the forest

Have 2! 

Coyotes, bears, bobcats, wolves, Buicks, or none of the above – Mother Nature’s answer to this problem is to have a spare. While it continues to make people feel uncomfortable to see or know fawns die, there is nothing to worry about. Deer have it under control.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PA Game Commission

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