Wildlife / Don't rescue 'abandoned' fawns

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About three weeks, ago I noticed a doe and twin fawns passing leisurely through the yard shortly before 7 a.m. The fawns were young, maybe three weeks old. It may have been the fawns' first foray out into the world with their mother. They tried to nurse several times, but mom pushed them away as she nibbled on some lush foliage.

Since then, the family has returned to the yard at least once every day. Usually it's in the morning, but sometimes they return again in the evening.

If my estimate of the fawns' age is accurate, they were born the second week of June. Though surprisingly strong and potentially mobile shortly after birth, fawns know to stay hidden in dense vegetation after birth. They rely on their natural camouflage and ability to remain motionless for hours to avoid attracting the attention of predators.

To minimize the chance that a coyote or bobcat might find twins together, a doe will separate them by as much as 100 yards. She then returns to the fawns three or four times each day to nurse.

During this vulnerable time, a doe seldom wanders more than a few hundred yards from the fawns' beds. She is a vigilant mother. This is why people should never pick up an "abandoned" fawn and take it home. Not only is it illegal, but the mother is almost always nearby watching. Fawns are abandoned only when the mother is killed -- it's nearly impossible to know whether the mother is actually gone.

Watching the deer family every day this month has been a real treat. The fawns have grown quickly and the doe has grown increasingly intolerant of their attempts to nurse.

In the last week, the fawns have become more active and aggressive toward each other. They frolic, chase each other and sometimes stand on their hind legs to fight.

I suspect the appeal of the yard is its openness. It's a safe place where they can shed the morning dew before heading back to the safety of the dense vegetation in the fields and forest.

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Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, sshalaway@aol.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.

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