Now is the time of year when people are most likely to come across deer fawns or elk calves in the woods, or possibly even their own backyards.
Often times with such encounters, the mother is nowhere in sight, and people might think the newborn has been abandoned. But that is rarely the case, as leaving the youngster alone is often the best way to protect it from predators.
If you find a deer fawn or an elk calf, the best thing to do is keep your distance and leave the animal right where you found it, said Ron Stewart, a regional conservation outreach manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Stewart said the DWR receives calls every year from people who found an ‘abandoned’ baby bird or mammal and would like the agency to take care of it, but chances are it doesn’t need human help.
Most of the animals that prey on fawns have a good sense of smell, but deer fawns are born scentless. Also, predators see in black and white, and the creamy brown, spotted coats of fawns serve as good camouflage.
The fawn’s mother will usually move away from the fawn to feed and rest, but she will still remain reasonably close by. If she senses danger, such as a human, she will leave the area in hopes of luring the perceived threat away.
Stewart said people, who can see a full range of color, often see a fawn in its hiding place. Since the doe has left the area, many people think the fawn has been abandoned, and they pick it up.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Without knowing it, you’ve just taken a fawn away from its mother.”
People who approach or touch fawns leave a scent that can draw predators. Stewart said numerous studies have also shown that predators will follow human tracks.
It’s also common to find newly hatched birds in backyards this time of the year. Young birds often leave their nests before they’re able to fly, and sometimes they fall to the ground.
For those who find baby birds on the ground, Stewart said the best thing to do is get the bird out of the reach of house cats and dogs by placing it on a safe branch.
“The baby will squawk, and the parents will find it,” he said.
He advises against feeding a bird before placing it back in the tree.
“Feeding them something that’s not part of their diet could kill them,” he said. “For example, you might be surprised to learn that robins are one of just a few birds that can safely eat worms. Most birds can’t.”
In addition to receiving calls about individual birds, DWR offices also receive calls from people who have found a nest with newly hatched birds in it. Stewart said the best thing to do is leave the nest where it is. But if that isn’t an option, relocate it in a nearby tree or another safe place.
“Birds are extremely good parents,” he said. “They’ll almost always find the spot where the nest is placed by following the sounds of their young.”