Nature Scrapbook: White-tailed deer

Published: May 2, 2019

White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Sniffs Behind Fawn's Ears Photo by Holly Kuchera/Shutterstock

Pregnant since November and famished from the privations of winter, white-tailed deer are in sore need of spring’s lush, highly nutritious new shoots of growth. Yet, even the season of plenty is an extremely precarious time, with most fawns being born, across the country, between mid-May and early June.

Between a couple of weeks and a few days before giving birth, a doe shoos off her older offspring and retreats to a secluded natal sanctuary, such as a dense thicket. Once there, she strictly guards her privacy, chasing away other deer venturing into the area.

Young females usually deliver one fawn, while healthy, mature deer often have twins. Mothers spend hours thoroughly licking their new arrivals, and eating the placentas and any vegetation marked by blood or birth fluid to remove scents that could attract predators.

Fawns can stand and walk within an hour of birth. If a doe has twins, she leads them to separate hideaways, some 70 or more metres apart, in thickets or tall grass, and beds down herself farther away, but within hearing distance of their bleats so she can spring to their aid. She visits her nearly scentless, resting charges periodically through the day and evening only long enough to nurse and groom them, until they are three or four weeks old. By then they can outrun most predators and begin foraging with their mother.

Within a few weeks of becoming mobile, fawns join larger family groups made up of their mothers’ previous offspring and sometimes the fawns of those offspring. While some females mate by their first December, most aren’t ready until the following autumn. Young males tend to leave their families before the females of their cohort, but are usually kept from breeding until later years by older, stronger bucks.

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