FROM: Crowsnest Conservation WildEd
Few things are as ‘aawwhh-inspiring’ as a spotted deer fawn bounding nimbly in play. But nothing seems as helpless as a lone fawn curled up in the undergrowth. Yet rarely are these fawns truly abandoned or orphaned. Rather the spot was specifically chosen by the mother as secure habitat within her familiar home range while she feeds and returns periodically to nurse the fawn. Her absence in the area is a strategy to avoid attracting predator attention during the fawn’s first few weeks. Spotted colouration, relative lack of odour, and a tendency to lay motionless further help camouflage the fawn. By about three weeks of age, the fawn will be able to keep up and follow her.
Deer sometimes seek perceived safety in residential areas when giving birth. Domestic dogs in these neighbourhoods may, however, be treated as potential predators, and a doe’s maternal instinct can turn a normally flighty deer into a surprisingly aggressive and protective mama. Both species of deer will display protective behaviour around their own fawns, but a study conducted by University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge researchers found that mule deer mothers also respond to fawn distress calls belonging to other mothers and even to fawn calls belonging to white-tailed deer. This higher level of maternal response may help explain why mule deer fawns suffer lower predation early in life compared to white-tailed fawns. In general, a doe’s aggressive protection will subside as her fawn is better able to flee.
Touching a fawn is discouraged, not because the mother will reject it as is commonly thought, but rather because the mother may be nearby observing the action and will delay her return considerably longer to ensure the area is safe. Only if the fawn is visibly injured or the mother known to have died on a nearby road should you consider intervening by reporting to the local Fish and Wildlife office. In the rare case of abandonment, the doe may have perceived an illness or terminal defect in the fawn that would preclude its long-term survival.
If the thought of an aggressive doe makes you uncomfortable, the thought of a protective cow moose should similarly elicit some fear; moose join the ranks of bear, cougar, and bison for most dangerous wildlife. And the risk assessment process used during a bear encounter should be applied to a cow moose encounter during the spring calving season. Did I surprise the moose at close range? Does it have a safe escape route? Are there calves nearby and have I inadvertently gotten between them? Is it giving behavioural clues to warn me of its stress (lowered head, flattened ears, raised hackles, smacking lips)? Can I back out of here swiftly and safely, while taking peripheral inventory of any large trees, shrubs or rocks that could shield in an attack?
A moose in the neighbourhood (especially during spring calving and fall rutting seasons) should be given a wide berth. Residents should never attempt to haze it away but instead should call their Fish and Wildlife officers who are trained to respond appropriately.
Spring is the season of new babies and cranky moms. If you find either near your home, give them room and keep your pets on a leash for their own safety. In a short time, the does and cows will assume a balance between being a good mother and a reasonable neighbour.