My mom shared some photos with me last week of a doe she observed nursing her fawn.

The survival strategy for white-tailed deer fawns is to hide. Even when they are face to face with danger (literally!), their instinct is to lay stone still.  Their heartrate and breathing even slows. 

Another survival strategy of fawns is that they cannot defecate unless stimulated in the anal region while nursing. Take a look!

This photo is not just a mom cleaning up a messy butt, but a behavior shared by all deer mothers. Consuming the feces and urine of the fawn minimizes scent that could attract predators. Nature’s version of a diaper change.

The one thing whitetail mothers don’t do very well is defend their fawns from predation. In fact, where white-tailed deer share space with mule deer, whitetail fawns born near a mule deer fawn will have a better chance of survival. 

That’s because female mule deer will defend fawns (even if not their own  – or even their own species!) against coyotes.  I wonder if that would hold true if mule deer does had bears to contend with like our whitetails.  Hmmmm…

While parenting can be overwhelming, leaving their child unattended for hours at a time is not the way most humans deal with reclaiming their sanity. So do whitetail moms really leave their young? And how far do they go?

We are still analyzing data of fawns and does with GPS collars, but we can share some insights. In 2017, we had 21 adult (at least 2 years old) female deer radio-collared sending locations every hour. By this age, over 90% of them are pregnant.

I calculated the distance traveled per week by these deer. I’ve plotted the results below.

These females average over 4 miles per week, but there is a declining trend with females traveling about ¾ of a mile less by week 30. You can see that some females traveled less than half a mile at some point but then moved back up to 2+ miles per week.

Check out the movie below of a doe and fawn. Pay close attention to the movement of the doe on 29 May!

It may be nerve-wracking to leave your offspring alone for hours at a time, but it seems to be a strategy that works quite well for white-tailed deer.

-Duane Diefenbach

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