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Sunday, August 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Fawns abound, but if you want them to grow up, leave them alone

A mule deer doe and her fawn forage for food on Thursday, June 27, 2019, on an island in the Spokane River below the T.J. Meenach Bridge. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A mule deer doe and her fawn forage for food on Thursday, June 27, 2019, on an island in the Spokane River below the T.J. Meenach Bridge. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

By now most deer have given birth to their young, and residents might see quite a few Bambi out and about.

Even if the mother doesn’t appear close by, she likely is, said Sara Hansen, a deer specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The best thing that anyone can do if they see a young animal – especially deer – just leave it alone,” Hansen said. “The mother is probably nearby, but is not going to make herself known while you’re there.”

Though it may be tempting, Hansen advises against coming into contact with the fawn because humans transfer scent onto the animal.

“It’s not because the mother won’t come back to it,” Hansen said. “The mother will come back if they’re there, it’s because you may be predisposing that animal to getting eaten.”

Many fawns come onto the scene at once, nature’s way of playing a numbers game. For mule deer, almost all does will give birth between May 28 and June 9.

“It means that there are a whole lot of fawns on the landscape, and the chances that a coyote or a bear are going to find all of the deer – probably not going to happen, so when you have this huge birth pulse it actually allows more of them to make it through,” Hansen said.

Dan McKinley, Mule Deer Foundation regional director, said the mule deer is an iconic animal for the west. Through the organization, McKinley works to restore mule deer habitat by planting things like bitter brush, especially after wildfires.

Hansen said the mule deer population is stable, but has been on a decline because of droughts and extreme winters. She wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few mule deer were lost this year. The reason the fawns are born in late May and June is to give them enough time to bulk up for the winter.

“Those animals that are fawns going through their first winter, that kind of heavy snowfall that late in the spring, that’s going to affect your yearling population because they are the most vulnerable,” Hansen said. That’s probably especially true in the Columbia Basin, she said.

Hansen said Fish and Wildlife received quite a few calls about dead deer, and when the staff went out to check, those were mostly fawns.

“We were all a little concerned about having that snowstorm late in February and coming into March,” Hansen said. “That period when deer are transitioning from their winter forage to that spring green up is one of the most energetically challenging times for them.”

Deer digestion works based on gut bacteria, and when they change diets, they do not have the correct bacteria immediately.

“There’s about a two-week transition from one food source to another where they’re eating the food, but it’s not being digested, so they’re not taking on any new energy,” Hansen said. “That’s when you see winter kill, they just don’t have enough energy left in the tank to make that transition.”

The highest mortality rates for deer are March and April, when they are making this transition. Because of how finicky deer digestion can be, Hansen cautions against feeding the animals.

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