Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: White-tailed deer fawns

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 22, 2014 - 3:19 PM

The rutting (or mating) season for white-tailed deer centers on the month of November. In southern Minnesota, about 20 percent of fawn does are bred in late November and into early December.

After a gestation period of 196 to 213 days, most fawns are born in late May and into early June. As the time of birth arrives, the doe lies down. Her body strains and movements aid in her labor. In a normal birth, the forefeet of the fawn appear first, followed quickly by the head. The entire birthing time requires from 10 to 60 minutes. A doe giving birth the first time will usually have one fawn. From then on twins will be most common, and triplets also frequently occur. Each weighs about 7 pounds at birth.

Mothers vigorously lick their newborn young with their rough tongues. This washing process might imprint the doe with the particular odor of her own young, enabling her to distinguish them from other fawns. A fawn, except for the nursing time, is inactive for the first three or four days of its life. During this same time period, the fawn is further protected by being nearly odorless. Its spotted coat is great camouflage and allows the fawn to blend into many natural backgrounds. In addition, during the first few days of a fawn’s life, the doe keeps her distance, preventing her own scent from giving away the fawn’s location.

A mother doe returns to nurse her young up to 10 times a day. After the fawn nurses, the doe makes it lie down, and she goes off to eat a variety of plant material, mostly leaves and twigs. The young are spotted, but molt to the solid brown-gray winter coat in September. Fawns usually remain with their mothers through their first winter, and sometimes a doe in winter might be accompanied by both first-year and second-year young.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio (830-AM) at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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