Babes Of The Woodland

Posted on June 28, 2011

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  “Perhaps the most appealing of all the babes of the woods is the fawn of the whitetail deer.”

 –   Archibald Rutledge

Babies have a way of softening even the most stiffened
demeanors. Whether it’s because of the little creature’s vulnerability, their
delicate character, or the innocence that new life personifies, it’s difficult,
if not impossible to view a fawn without feeling fulfilled. Although they are
instinctually wild, the impressionable infant displays a curious but guarded trust
for any large mammal. The fawn’s personality can be imprinted quite easily by
each situation the fawn experiences. If the hunter is to gain a greater
appreciation for the elusive nature of an adult whitetail, it becomes
imperative that he understands the fawns’ developmental process.

Birth

With its first breath of air, the struggle begins in the
fawn’s quest to survive. The critical doe-fawn bonding process starts as the
doe licks and cleans her baby of all amniotic fluids. Once the fawn is
sufficiently groomed, it will instinctively nurse for the first time. This
initial feeding has far greater significance than just filling a hungry belly.
The doe’s milk temporarily contains a high-protein secretion known as colostrum,
which provides antibodies necessary in preventing the fawn from any infections.
Incredibly, within the first half hour following parturition, the newborn is wobbly
teetering around on its own power.

 

The birthing place selected by the mother is isolated from
other deer and is aggressively guarded to secure privacy. The reasoning for
this behavior is to insure the fawn imprints completely on her. In the eyes of
a fawn all deer look alike, therefore, it becomes crucial in the first few days
of life for the infant to only smell its mothers distinct odor. On the same
token, all fawns sound and look identical and it is only through this neo-natal
bonding that the mother learns to recognize her own offspring. Even during
these early formidable days the deer’s olfactory senses are being honed.

Cryptic stage

The fawn is wonderfully equipped to avert detection. Its multi-spotted
coloration blends into the springtime flora, visibly masquerading the youngster
as just another innate object on the forest floor. Because predation is
accomplished through sight and scent, providentially, the fawn remains nearly
odorless for the first few weeks of its life. During each feeding mother spends
considerable time licking her baby, particularly around the rectum. Until the
fawn is capable of out distancing its enemies, hiding is really the only
defense. Remaining inactive during this stage helps fawns conserve precious
energy required for rapid physical development. Unlike human infants who are
not susceptible to becoming someone’s dinner, sleep in unfettered comfort, and
who receive constant care and attention, baby deer must adapt quickly in order
to survive.

 

A newborn spends 95 percent of its young life bedded. Other
than occasionally shifting positions or stretching, a fawn is usually only
active 3-4 times during a twenty-four hour period when mother summons for
feeding. Less you think the little tyke is left to his own devices in these
early days the maternal doe is never far from her baby. Although she may not
always have visual contact with the fawn the mother doe is never beyond earshot
and knows precisely where her offspring is hidden.

Toddler stage

It really is quite fascinating to watch how quickly a fawn
develops both physically and psychologically. Within three weeks of birth a
fawn can literally outrun any predator. As the fawn matures, his duration of
activity increases as well as the distance he is able and does travel. With
each passing day the fawn becomes more independent and incessantly curious to
everything within his realm of sight, scent and sound.

Now that the fawn is past the most vulnerable time of his
young existence the schooling begins in ernst. The fawn will start traveling
short distances with mom visually observing her every move. He may not
understand completely why she reacts the way she does in certain situations,
but is quick to duplicate her reactions. I believe through observation a young
deer has the ability to distinguish subtle and sudden variations in the body
language of its mother. Even though she is always on guard, her posture
fluxuates to represent being relaxed agitated, curious, highly alert and
frightened. Through these visual associations, any real or perceived potential
danger sets the stage for how a fawn will react through out its life when faced
with similar situations. Perhaps this explains why some deer are notoriously
timid and skittish when approached while others exhibit a greater tolerance
towards intrusions. Every whitetail has a fright and flight distance, meaning
how far a predator is allowed to get before the animal decides to flee. It
seems quite conceivable that this psychological safety net is established
during a deer’s early days as the fawn observes its mothers behavior.

 

Fawns duplicate many of the same traits common to young
children. They are highly energetic, sometimes disregard mothers’ warnings and
are also playful. When the fawn is capable of accompanying mother in all of her
travels, he begins to interact with other deer. It’s like recess on the school
playground. A fawn will run, jump and race around in circles with limitless
energy. This activity is beneficial in more ways than just releasing pent up
energy levels. It strengthens muscles, skills and reflexes that will ultimately
aid them in escaping danger throughout their life.

Up until now, the fawn has only had interaction with its
mother. By socializing with other fawns of his own age group he begins to establish
position in the social order. It is not uncommon to find these youngsters
engaged in mock adult behavior during their playtime. They will mimic aggressive
posturing, head butting and even groom each other.

Grammar school stage

Mother and child are now nearly inseparable. The fawn accompanies
its mother wherever she travels. Although he continues to nurse, his diet is
expanding to native browse. Being able to recognize what foods are palatable
and beneficial to him is also learned behavior. By watching what mother eats,
the fawn is cued to sample the vegetation as well. His four-chambered stomach
is fully developed and allows for him to properly process the roughage. Sometime
in late summer or early autumn the fawn will be completely weaned. Despite
making attempts to nurse during this phase of his childhood, mother will
forcefully if need be, dissuade him from this natural instinct. It is the first
of many separations he will ultimately face as he matures.

Conclusion

Like a sunset on the horizon in eventide the once prominent spots
of the fawn are now disappearing, replaced by the first of perhaps many winter
coats. The lessons will continue to be imbued upon the young adolescent until
adulthood is reached. Based on circumstance and astuteness, this animal could
become – the wily buck we all dream of one day pitting our senses against.

All images on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier.

© 2011 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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