While it is technically still spring, May gives us our first summer preview. Gone are the 30 and 40 degree temperatures that linger through March and sometimes April. Through the windows we see a rainbow of colors instead of the dull lifeless grays and browns. Scarlet tanagers, yellow daffodils, brown does…well not all the brown is gone. But these girls certainly aren’t lifeless. In fact, they are busting with it. After 200 days and a long winter, does across the state are about to grace the world with a new life, or two, or maybe three. That’s right, it’s fawning season.
May certainly isn’t short in bugs but you won’t see any social butterflies at least when it comes to those soon-to-be momma’s of the deer world. Discretion and secrecy are top priority to any doe about to give birth.
In preparation for the big event, a doe begins to avoid contact with other members of her social group. If she is a first time mom, she will seek out a secluded birth site usually outside of her core area. If this isn’t mom’s first rodeo, then she will return to the same place each year to give birth. Labor lasts 12 or more hours. However, if disturbed, deer are known to be able to stop the labor process–a definite plus if you are a prey species.
After the little bundle(s) of joy arrive, that’s when it’s the most important for mom to get some alone time with her babies. Licking them dry, she establishes the bond that will let her distinguish her fawns from all the other identical bundles of joy.
Establishing this bond takes few hours and is critical. Without it, a doe may abandon her fawn(s). She also nurses her newborn shortly after birth and remains with or close-by it for the first 24 hours.
Fawning season is akin to a population explosion but how big that explosion is depends on age and nutrition of those lighting the fuse. Most yearling does, if they conceive at all, generally give birth to a single fawn. Twins are common among adult does.
Deer herds in balance with the area’s forage have the highest reproductive rates. Those on overstocked ranges produce few fawns. In Pennsylvania, few does north of I-80 give birth as yearlings.
In Pennsylvania, 80% of yearling does that are pregnant produce single fawns, while 74% of does 3 years old or older produce twins. And only 3% of adult does produce triplets.
Young moms may be more fun but old moms make sure fawns see the change of the season. Research has shown that fawns of experienced does (four years old or older) have lower mortality rates than those of younger does. Older does are more dominant and can stake out better areas for fawn rearing.
So get the cigars ready, Pennsylvania is about to welcome thousands of new state animals into its ranks.
-Jeannine Fleegle, biologist
PGC, Deer and Elk Section
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