On the morning of June 2 as I was meandering around the yard gazing across the hayfield that borders the forest leading west to the Upper Shepaug reservoir, I stopped on the edge of the patio and leaned over to turn on the outdoor spigot to water the newly planted begonias and petunias. Taken aback, I discovered, curled up against the house and hidden from the yard by a spreading yew, a newborn fawn. Fur moist and glistening on the delicate frame, she lifted her head and gazed up blinking as if asking, “what are you?”

I had not seen any deer around the yard or in the hay field, and there were no dead deer on the side of the road. My immediate assumption, common to many of us encountering a newborn fawn, was that the mother was either dead or injured or had abandoned her baby.  A neighbor, born and raised in this area, related a story from his past about raising an orphaned newborn fawn on goat’s colostrum!  Not sure where goat’s colostrum was “on sale”, I called the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and luckily was referred to Howard Kilpatrick, Wildlife Biologist for the state of Connecticut, who was happy to set me straight about what is a common occurrence at the end of May and for the first couple of weeks of June here in Connecticut every year.

This is the birthing season for white tail deer and a hay field is a likely place for the birth to take place. The tall hay offers a hiding place for the doe; but soon after birth, the fawn is often moved away from the “delivery room.” The mother is worried that the newborn is bathed in her scent and will attract hayfield predators including coyotes, red fox, bobcats, and even the occasional black bear and eagle. Aside from predators, farming related accidents related to cutting hay account for a large number of fawn deaths during the first few days after birth when they are almost immobile. Once delivering the fawn to a new hiding place, the doe remains scarce except for feeding at night in an effort again to not leave her scent in the vicinity to attract predators. This routine will often last up to two weeks post birth, until the fawn is up on legs strong enough to follow mother back into the woods and fields. This time of year, DEEP receives phone calls from Connecticut residents reporting very aggressive deer suddenly appearing and attacking their dogs out on a walk who are sniffing around at the edge of the thicket. These are does with a fawn hidden nearby protecting their offspring. DEEP does administer a program raising abandoned fawns but only supports 6 such licensed “fawn raisers” in the entire state. The major risk, however, is that the young deer will habituate to humans and young male deer have been known to spar with and butt humans as they start to develop antlers leading to injuries.

My experience with my unexpected visitor was one filled with wonder, concern, and gratitude at being present as a witness. The first day, I watched from my family room across the patio to catch the fawn wobble to a standing position and then almost immediately kneel on front legs and roll back to curl up under the yew.

The fawn was so still, head down, and curled up for long periods of time that I wondered how I would tell if she was thriving and not dehydrated, injured or even alive. Over the next two days, I at times lost sight of my guest but then would spy the fawn tucked back further under the yew with only the big eyes and wiggling nose visible. On the fourth day, I discovered the fawn had moved across the patio and was resting in a bed of chives in the herb garden abutting the porch.

With a better view, I was reassured that the fawn appeared to be growing and the fur looked dry and thicker. The next day, my neighbor texted me that my “house guest” was standing up on all fours behind the stone wall across the street.

With no sighting the following day, I assumed mom had taken the baby elsewhere, but on Saturday, found that again the fawn was sprawled comfortably in the herb garden bed by our house. I am writing this on a rainy Sunday (one week after my first encounter) and no sightings thus far. So perhaps my glimpse into a deer’s introduction to the world is over.

Howard Kilpatrick, our Connecticut wildlife biologist, has some sage advice for Connecticut residents if they encounter this type of unexpected visitor.  First, do not automatically assume that the fawn is abandoned or orphaned, and get near, touch, or attempt to feed the animal. If the doe is in the area, this may provoke her to be aggressive to protect her baby.  Unless the fawn is acting “unusual,” no need to notify DEEP unless there is a dead deer found in the area. Evidently not moving much if at all those first few days, huddling under natural hiding places, and not seeing a hovering mother visible anywhere in the area with only nighttime visits for feeding is not at all “unusual” for a newborn fawn. And finally, Howard’s advice is to assume that the mother is caring for the fawn, and simply enjoy your experience. If needed, Howard Kilpatrick can be reached at Howard.Kilpatrick@CT.gov.

— Will Treem