fawn laying at base of tree with green shrubby branches around it

Doe 16601 was an adult at time of capture. So 2018 was not her first fawning season. We know from research that does exhibit high birth site fidelity. Remember 12866? She traveled 6 miles from her home range to fawn in State College! 

16601 was collared for 2 fawning seasons. Any bets on where she had her fawn in 2019?

If you guessed the intersection of Weikert Run and White Mountain Rd, you would be…wrong! Apparently, that intersection was not the Goldilocks spot. In a stunning twist, 16601 relocated her fawning site in 2019 between 2 ridges about 1.5 miles from that intersection. 

Site fidelity is individually based. Individuals decide whether or not to return to a given site base on previous experience at that location. For examples, migrating mule deer return to their traditional winter ranges every year. However, this behavior that has served them well for generations is becoming an “ecological trap” due to rapid human-caused habitat changes. 

Mule deer iin grassland looking at camera

Maybe 16601’s individual experience at Weikert and White Mountain wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Maybe it was a trap!

Pronghorn females that showed birth site fidelity has lower fawn mortality values than those that changed birth sites. Females that lost one or both fawns were more likely to give birth at a different location in subsequent years. 

antelope doe and fawn at watering hole

Moose showed preference for returning to areas where they had success in weaning a calf. And in weighing the pros and cons of a calving areas, cows chose avoiding human disturbance over optimal foraging. Unlike the moose in Yellowstone, these Norwegian moose lived on an island free of predators. Nobody likes us. 

Reindeer moms (Santa’s most famous helpers) fall in line with the rest with previous year’s calf mortality influencing their return to the same birth site. 

So what happened in 2018 to make 16601 leave the ‘Burbs of Bald Eagle? Did she lose her fawns in 2018? Was there too much human traffic? Were the dining options subpar at the Weikert Diner? Were Wile E and Yogi not deterred enough by the crossroads? 

Her home range was pretty stable the years we followed her.

As with all things, we will never know. It sure would have been fun to see where the tie breaker would have been in 2020. Alas, 16601 was harvested in October of 2019. 

That “just right” place to hide a fawn, a female’s most important asset, is the quest of every doe. If she is successful, she invests in property. If not, she continues house hunting. 

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PA Game Commission

Posts in this series:
The Human Shield
It’s a Trap!
House Hunting
Pieces of the Puzzle

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