With the spring equinox behind us, longer warmer days are in our future. Daffodils are in bloom, the peepers are peeping, and robin calls are in the air. Ah spring!

I love spring! I’m happy to see temperatures over 50 and no snow in the forecast. After a long, gray, cold winter, everyone is in a good mood…unless you are a pregnant doe. 

By the time mid-April rolls around, pregnant does are over it. Over the long winter. Over caring for her adolescent offspring. Over being pregnant. With 50 days of pregnancy still on the calendar, it’s time to start preparing the nursery and they have little to no patience for their “teenagers” still living at home. 

Pregnant females begin to isolate themselves prior to giving birth. This is out of necessity. Fawns take several days to bond with mom and during this period they will follow any large moving object like other deer or even a person. After toting that fetus around for 200+ days during the worst time of year, mom isn’t going to let some good-for-nothing teen (or any other brown look alike) make off with her investment. And she makes that abundantly clear.

Photo Credit: John Cowan

Mom’s sour attitude sets a chain of events in motion. One with which every deer biologist and researcher is familiar. That, of course, is dispersal. Yearling deer have 2 distinct dispersal periods – spring and fall. We’ve discussed it many times – for males and females

While pregnant does associate closely with their yearling offspring prior to fawning and they are often on the receiving end of her ill mood, she is not the only one giving them the business. The more adult females in the area, the more males AND females disperse in the spring. Pregnant does are seeking isolation, not just from their offspring but from everyone. When it comes to deer social status, yearlings have none. They are frequently subordinate to their female relatives and most females with overlapping home ranges are related in some way. 

Where are all the adult males you ask? Laying low and trying to stay as far away from females as possible. Bucks are regrouping in the spring. Having survived another hunting season, they are yucking it up with (as well as sizing up) the boys, regrowing antlers, and saddling up to buffets that are reopening with a new spring menu. In other words, prepping for another breeding season. They can’t be bothered with females or teenagers.

So tread lightly around momma. Because if she ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. A truth that is universal to all species!

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
Deer and Elk Section, Game Commission

Special thanks to John Cowan for suggesting the topic and providing the photo!

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