Babes of the Woodland

Posted on April 12, 2016

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   Perhaps the most appealing of all the babes of the woods is the fawn of

the whitetail deer.                                                          Archibald Rutledge   

 

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

 

Birth

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With its first breath of air, the struggle begins in a 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 contains a high-protein secretion known as colostrum for the first few days, which provides antibodies necessary to protect the fawn from any infections. Incredibly, within the first half-hour following parturition the newborn is wobbly, but teetering around on its own power.

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The birthing place selected by the mother is isolated from other deer and is aggressively guarded to secure privacy. The reason for this behavior is to ensure the fawn imprints solely and 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 smell only its mother’s distinct odor. By 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 developmental days the deer’s olfactory senses are being honed.

 

Cryptic Stage

 

The fawn is wonderfully equipped to avoid detection. Its multi-spotted coloration blends into the springtime flora, visibly masking the youngster among other innate objects 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, the mother spends considerable time licking her baby, particularly around the rectum. Until the fawn is capable of out distancing its enemies in a sprint, hiding is really its only defense. Remaining inactive during this stage helps fawns conserve the precious energy required for rapid physical development. Unlike human infants who are not susceptible to becoming someone’s dinner, who sleep in unfettered comfort, and receive constant care and attention, the baby deer must adapt quickly to danger in order to survive.

 

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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, which is when its mother summons it for feeding. Lest you think the little tyke is left to his own devices in these early days, rest assured 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

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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 to travel. With each passing day the fawn becomes more independent and incessantly curious about everything within his realm of sight, scent and sound.

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Now that the fawn is past the most vulnerable time of his young existence, the schooling begins in earnest. The fawn will start traveling short distances with mom, all the while observing her every move. He may not understand completely why she reacts the way she does in certain situations, but he 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 changes to represent being relaxed, agitated, curious, highly alert and frightened. Through these visual associations, any real or perceived danger sets the stage for how a fawn will react throughout 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 mother’s behavior.

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Fawns duplicate many of the same traits common to young children. They are highly energetic; sometimes they disregard mother’s warnings and are quite 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. It strengthens muscles, skills and reflexes that will ultimately aid them in escaping danger throughout their life.

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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

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Mother and child are now nearly inseparable. The fawn accompanies her wherever she travels. Although he continues to nurse, his diet is expanding to native browse. He has learned from mom the ability to recognize what foods are palatable and beneficial to him. 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

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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, astuteness and good fortune this animal could indeed grow to become the wily buck we all dream of one day pitting our senses against.

 

 

 

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

© 2016 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

 

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer