Fact or Fiction:
If I touch the animal,
its mother will reject it.
If the doe is still caring for the fawn, she will lick the human scent off at the next feeding. Touching the fawn will signal her that it must be moved to keep it safe. Without human scent the doe may not realize the fawn's hiding place has been discovered. This is the quickest way to determine if the fawn is being cared for because the doe will move it far enough away that you will be unable to find it again. White-tailed fawns will not travel great distances without the urging of their mothers.
If she senses danger while caring for the fawn, she will move it to the farthest part of her range rather than the average 50 feet or more she would move it if there were no danger!
In Michigan, fawns are usually born between May 15 and June 15, but can be as early as April or as late as August. A doe stakes out a territory and her fawns are the only fawns in that area. It may be as small as a city lot or as large as twenty acres.
She gives birth, cleans the fawn, feeds it and moves it away from the birthing site. The doe leaves the fawn alone for eight hours or more while she feeds, drinks and her milk replenishes. She returns to the fawn several times during the course of a day.
A fawn is not strong enough to run with the doe until it is at least three weeks of age, and when very young, it will appear unsteady and shakey.
Since fawns have NO ODOR, and their natural instinct is "freeze behavior" for the first two weeks of their lives, it is unlikely they will be found by dogs or coyotes (unless tripped over). Staying with her fawn would give away its hiding place.
When a fawn is removed by humans or a predator, the doe will continue to look for it for two to three days, repeatedly returning to the area where she last left the baby.
Fawns are occasionally abandoned: The doe may have been killed by a car, she may have had twins or triplets and one is disproportionately smaller than the others, or she may be a first-time, inexperienced doe scared away from her fawn before she was able to bond with it.
Orphaned fawns are never “adopted” by another doe. It is survival of the fittest, whether we like it or not. The other doe must take into account that her fawn or fawns will need all the nutrition she can supply. A doe will bond with her fawn within the first four hours of its birth. She can then pick her fawn out of a group, if necessary, by its unique smell to her. There have been recorded instances where fawns have tried to nurse from a doe that is not its mother and the fawn has been rebuffed or killed.
It is against most State laws to raise fawns when you do not have a license to do so. Fawns need to see others of their species to keep them from imprinting on humans. They cannot tolerate cow's milk or baby formula - and if overfed or underfed, life-long problems or, in the worst case, death occurs.
What You Can Do:
A hands-on check can help you determine if the fawn can safely be left for a few hours. First be aware that, when you begin the exam, if the fawn starts to "bleat," the doe may just come immediately to its rescue. In that case, problem solved! Put the fawn down facing the doe and back away.
Otherwise, stand the baby up, feel under the stomach for the umbilical cord scab. If it is there, the fawn is definitely under a week old. Lift the tail and look for diarrhea, check for maggots, scrapes and/or punctures. Put your little finger into the corner of its mouth, toward the back of the tongue. (It won't bite.) A fawn's temperature is approximately 102 degrees so it should feel warm to the touch and the saliva should not feel sticky.
Pull the skin up on its back and check whether it snaps back or tents up. Tenting indicates dehydration. There is a small indentation in the fawn's skull directly behind the eye going up toward the ear. Fawns are born with a thin layer of fat under the skin. When healthy and hydrated, this depression is barely visible. When severely dehydrated these depressions can be as deep as 1/4 of an inch.
Severe dehydration can also make the eyes look like they are protruding and their face look skeletal. Severe dehydration and the stress of not eating can cause diarrhea. It takes several days for a fawn to starve to death (depending on its age and size), so if none of these factors are present, it is reasonable to suggest the fawn be put back and checked in a few hours. If it's morning, leave it until after dark - if it is evening, leave the fawn until morning, WEATHER PERMITTING!
Very young fawns cannot tolerate cold, wet conditions, for long periods of time. After waiting a few hours, if it is still within 10 feet or so of where you last left it, the fawn may require intervention. Contact a Rehabilitator.
Immediate Intervention is Needed When:
- A fawn is found curled up next to a dead doe
- If crying out (bleating) for hours
- If it has diarrhea, maggots, severe scrapes or deep puncture wounds
- If severely dehydrated
- If its body temperature is extremely low.
- If something is broken
- If found lying on its side with outstretched limbs
In the case of any of the above, please contact a licensed Rehabilitator in your area. This website is based in Michigan. Our state maintains a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators at:
In other states, check your state's Department of Natural Resources web site for help. Please note: Some states do not allow rehabilitation of fawns.