Burleson Heights added two new residents this spring: Fawns born in the yards along Princeton Drive!
Perhaps not surprisingly, one yard that has been hosting a new white-tailed deer family is a certified wildlife habitat. But even if the National Wildlife Federation hadn’t given the yard its stamp of approval, the doe has, choosing the native landscaping as her hiding place for her young one.
Because we’re on the edge of a creek and greenbelt, wildlife often share our neighborhood and might show up when and where their human neighbors don’t expect them. Here is some advice from the staff of the Austin Nature Center and from a homeowner who has hosted a fawn in her yard.
Spring into life
Central Texas deer often bear twins, and typically have their young in early May through late June, sometimes before a storm or other change in the weather. When a doe is ready to give birth, she will seek an open area where she can watch for predators. It also will be near a source of food for herself, because the tiny fawn will not be able to travel for several days.
As soon as a fawn is born, the mother encourages it to stand and move to a hiding space. She then cleans the area to remove anything with a scent that could attract predators. She also will clean up after the fawn regularly for weeks to come.
Mother and fawn remain in the birth area for several days to a week, spending portions of the nights together, then separating during the day while the mother goes off to feed and the fawn stays and hides.
Baby deer are born without a scent that could attract predators, and instinctively freeze when surprised. Their stillness and spotted brown coat make them almost impossible to find while hiding. And surprisingly, it is the fawn, not the mom, that finds the hiding place. Becase mom’s scent can attract predators, when the fawn is not nursing, it finds a brushy area, then hunkers down.
Fawns that call our neighborhood home are hard to see, so please be cautious when you are gardening or mowing during springtime.
Avoid temptation to intervene
If you find a fawn, it is probably hiding, not lost or ophaned. Human interference can cause it to leave its hiding place, and because it does not have a scent, its mother cannot follow a trail to find it again. A mother that does not find her fawn in a day or two will assume it has died and will leave, so fawns that have been mistakenly removed by humans should be returned quickly.
A fawn doesn’t necessarily bond immediately with its mother. It can be confused by human intervention or might bond with a human it thinks is its mother. Though cute at first, this means that it will miss important training it needs to survive in the wild. It might end up spending its life in captivity, being killed by predators or put down by authorities. And deer that lose their fear of humans are dangerous, especially during the fall breeding season, when bucks become aggressive and can attack humans they view as competitors.
Please do not feed deer or fawns. Doing so is a misdemeanor under Austin’s deer feeding ordinance, and you don’t need to feed them anyway. Does give birth where they can find ample plants to eat, and the only food that a baby needs is its mother’s milk.
Feeding urban deer increases birth rates, reduces their fear of humans and increases the chance of ill-fated encounters with pets, people and traffic. Corn lacks adequate protein, especially for a nursing mother, and any supplemental feed will encourage her to linger when the safest place for her and her fawn is in the woods.
Extra food also attracts animals that could find and attack a fawn, such as dogs, raccoons and coyotes. (Coyotes were most recently seen during the drought in late 2010, when at least two traveled along Country Club Creek into Burleson Heights. They made the rounds at about 9 a.m. for weeks, seeking pet food left outside by residents and killing several outdoor cats.)
After a few weeks, the fawn will start to travel with its mother and adopt a natural diet of leaves, stems and acorns, possibly in your yard. You can protect your landscape (to a degree) by choosing deer-resistant plants, by spraying with a deer repellent such as Liquid Fence or by using other deer deterrents.
When to get involved
It might be time to intervene if you find a fawn that is crying, is covered with fire ants, has swollen eyes or has visible wounds. Contact a local rescue and rehabilitation expert, a game warden or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildlife Information Line (1-800-792-1112). Learn more about when to call in a rehabilitation expert.
Living with urban deer
• Don’t feed the deer.
• Don’t get close to the deer and fawn, and don’t disturb or try to touch a healthy or sleeping fawn.
• If you observe a fawn, skip the yard work and mowing for a week or so. Stay out of the area until the deer family moves on.
• If a baby deer starts to follow you, try to head it back under a bush and encourage it to lie down. Eventually, instinct should take over, and the fawn will stay still until its real mom gets home.
• Keep dogs on a leash. It is not in a dog’s instinct to “play” with a fawn. If a dog stumbles upon a fawn or sees one moving, it will be up to you to prevent a catastrophe.
Coexisting with urban wildlife has its challenges and its joys. Observe and enjoy the deer, learn about their natural habits and keep a respectful distance for the safety of you both. Happy wildlife watching!