Here’s a column I wrote about a year ago that ran in The Hour (Norwalk, Ct.) and The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H). It is about finding baby deer that are “abandoned” — but not really abandoned, of course. Since it is that time of year again when people may stumble across baby animals, I figured I’d put this column out there again.
What do old tennis balls, my boys’ penchant for baseball, and a nearby school have to do with this nature column?
Hang in there, you’ll find out soon enough.
First, let’s back up to winter. During snowless winter days I like to wander around the woods surrounding tennis courts and collect as many old tennis balls as I can. My boys used to love to join me in this endeavor. Now they kind of just tolerate the venture.
So why would I spend time and put up with the invariable scratches that come with such an outing? To have plenty of fodder for batting practice in the backyard. I live next to a school and the property is divided by a chain link fence about eight feet high. It makes for the perfect home run derby fence. I don’t have the bank account to fix all the broken windows that using a real baseball would cause, so we use old tennis balls.
The boys are getting bigger and stronger so lots of tennis balls go flying over the fence. Sometimes four or five pitches in a row are lost in the small patch of woods on the other side of the fence.
Of course, we don’t just leave the tennis balls over there. Once a week or so, we walk around the fence to collect the home runs.
Last week, while searching for the lost balls among the ever-thickening summer growth, we came across something much more exciting than old tennis balls.
As I walked along the fence with my eyes fixed on the ground, I very much nearly stepped on a baby deer. I stepped away slowly and studied the deer to see if it was alive. Its eyes were alert and its breathing steady. The tiny fawn was very much alive and very well hidden.
I took a few more steps away and called the boys over quietly. They were amazed.
Obviously they had seen plenty of deer before, but this was the first time seeing one so close. We watched it for a few minutes and walked away as quietly as possible.
Back in our own yard, I fielded the questions I suspected would be coming. “Is it lost?” “Can we bring it home?” “Is the mother coming back?” No, definitely no, and yes.
When deer are so young, the mother simply hides the fawn in the woods and goes about her daily business. It is a safer strategy than having the fawn trying to follow the mother around all day. A predator is much more likely to see the deer and fawn walking around than it is to find the camouflaged fawn in the woods.
The boys understood and stopped asking me if we could keep it. I don’t think they were really serious anyway and I think just wanted to get my reaction.
It’s a scenario that people sometimes find themselves facing in the spring. They find a fawn in the woods and assume it’s been abandoned by its mother, or that the mother has been killed and the fawn is now alone.
That is not the case the vast majority of time. Without question, the best thing to do is leave the fawn alone. If the fawn is in a place where you can check on it occasionally, by all means, keep a distant eye on it. If it’s there when it gets dark, that may be an issue. In my case, the fawn in question was no longer there by about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. If the fawn is there overnight or is clearly injured, still do not touch the animal. Call a wildlife rehabilitator such as Wildlife in Crisis in Weston (203 544-9913) and explain the situation. Wildlife in Crisis, however, explains that sometimes it does take up to 24 hours to feel secure enough to return to the fawn.
Wildlife in Crisis also warns against touching the fawn. The fawn knows its best defense is to remain still so humans can approach very closely. Resist the temptation to touch or pet the fawn. Also, older fawns will run away if approached too closely, so be careful. Fleeing opens up the fawn to all sorts of hazards.
This is also peak time for this sort of activity. Late May and early June is when most fawns are born. It’s also when humans spend more time in the woods hiking, exploring, looking for lost tennis balls, or simply enjoying being outdoors. Encounters with fawns are bound to happen. Enjoy the experience, but leave the fawn alone.