The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding New Yorkers to enjoy wildlife and their young from a safe distance and resist the urge to touch or pick up newborn fawns and other young wildlife. Human contact with wildlife can carry unintended consequences detrimental to wildlife safety and development.
At this time of year, animal sightings and encounters are not unusual. Young wildlife quickly venture into the world on wobbly legs or are unable to fly on their own. While most young wildlife learn survival skills from one or both adults, some receive little or no care. Often, wild animals stay away from their young, especially when people are present. For all these young animals, the perils of survival are a natural part of life in the wild. Unfortunately, well-intentioned individuals may attempt to care for young wild animals they believe to be abandoned or in need of assistance. However, human interaction typically does more damage than good.
White-tailed deer fawns are a good example of how human interaction with young wildlife can be problematic. Most fawns are born during late May and early June. Although fawns can walk shortly after birth, they spend most of their first several days lying still in tall grass, leaf litter, or sometimes relatively unconcealed. During this period, a fawn is usually left alone by the adult female (doe), except when nursing. People occasionally find a lone fawn and mistakenly assume it has been abandoned, which is rare. Fawns should never be picked up. If human presence is detected by the doe, the doe may delay its next visit to nurse.
A fawn’s best chance to survive is to be raised by the adult doe. Fawns nurse three to four times a day, usually for less than 30 minutes at a time, but otherwise the doe keeps her distance. This helps reduce the chance that a predator will follow her to the fawn. A fawn’s protective coloration and ability to remain motionless help it avoid detection by predators and people.
By the end of its second week, a fawn begins to move about and spend more time with the doe. It also begins to eat grass and leaves. At about 10 weeks of age, fawns are no longer dependent on milk, although they continue to nurse occasionally into the fall. During August, deer begin to grow their winter coats and fawns lose their spots.
In addition, young wildlife are not pets. Keeping wildlife in captivity is both illegal and harmful to the animal. Wild animals are not well-suited for life in captivity and may carry diseases that can be transferred to humans. Resist the temptation to take them out of the wild. Those who observe sick-acting wildlife or wildlife acting abnormally should keep people and pets away and contact their DEC regional wildlife office. For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about young wildlife, visit DEC’s website.