The Real Does of the Deer Forest Study: Maternity Ward


Doe 12866, heavy with fawn, has made her way to State College after an all night trek. The only plausible reason for this movement is fawning. Why else would she leave her home range this time of year?

I mentioned birth site fidelity in the last episode of The Real Does. Birth site fidelity is the behavior of returning to the same location to give birth. Over her life time a doe she gets better at successfully raising fawns. And we know from our own research and that of others that fawns born in agricultural settings have a higher survival rate. We have documented collared does moving out of the forest and into surrounding agricultural areas to have their fawns.

Maybe Doe 12866 is following that trend. If she experienced success in fawn rearing here in the past, it is not surprising that she returned. It just happens to be over 6 miles away from home. Which, of course, begs the question of how she “stumbled” upon this area in the first place? 

Does close to fawning chase away their yearling offspring. This is why we see a dispersal pulse in the spring. Males are the most notorious for dispersing with 75% of all yearling males leaving home and never returning. Nearly half of that happens in the spring. Females disperse at a much lower rate but all of it happens in the spring and those that don’t disperse do make forays. Killing time before they can go back home to mom. 

Doe 12866 may have learned about this area by following her mother there but that isn’t a given from what we know about deer behavior. Maybe she found it as a yearling on a foray and filed it away? Regardless, this is where she decided to have her fawn. 

Doe 12866 gave birth to a bouncing baby girl on May 30, Memorial Day of 2017. 

Her hiding spot seems perfect for a fawn. However, this is not deep in the wilds of Penn’s woods. Here’s a picture of the crew as they were searching for “Rose” (the nickname the crew gave her). 

Adult does normally give birth to 2 fawns but only Rose was found – close to the VIT. The datasheet of Rose’s capture notes that Doe 12866 gave birth in a thicket of multiflora rose, barberry, autumn-olive, and honeysuckle which was also Rose’s hiding spot. Doe 12866 wasn’t far from her baby either, only about 50 meters in the tangle of vegetation that was nearly impossible for the crew to get through. 

Rose received a catlogger so we have movement information for her too! Check out the travels of mother and daughter during her first week of life. Keep in mind as you watch this video that the accuracy of the fawn GPS collar is not as good as the adult collar so it looks like she is always moving and sometimes in places that don’t make sense (like in a house or on the road).

And here are their movements in the second week of life.

This is what that woodlot looks like today.

The little woodlot that Doe 12866 used as a maternity ward is no more. 

The saga of Doe 12866 doesn’t end here. She wore that GPS collar for a year. How long was she in State College? Did she go back home? Did she take her fawn? 

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist

All Posts in this series:
The Real Does of the Deer Forest Study: The New Norm?
The Real Does of the Deer Forest Study: Pregnant and On the Move
The Real Does of the Deer Forest Study: Maternity Ward
The Real Does of the Deer Forest Study: Love and Loss
The Real Does of the Deer Forest Study: Holiday Drama and Life Lessons

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