Years ago I worked as a Naturalist at a small nature center in Westchester County, New York. In the springtime, it was not unusual for us to get calls from well-meaning people who thought they had found an abandoned fawn. Some even went so far as to bring the fawn into their homes, wanting to “rescue” it from what they imagined was its terrible fate. These people were always surprised to learn that for the fawns, and their mothers, “being invisible” is a survival tactic that has worked for hundreds of years.
Newborn fawns have little scent and their best defense against predators like fox, coyotes and dogs is simple camouflage.
If they lie still among the leaves and fallen branches, their coat with its white splotches, blends in perfectly with the patches of sunlight filtering through the treetops. If you have ever been lucky enough to spot a fawn in the forest, you know how difficult it is to see. They will remain motionless until it is absolutely certain that they have been discovered and are about to be touched, or eaten. If an animal like a dog or coyote keys in on an invisible fawn, the fawn will get up and run but its chances of survival once it has been discovered are just about zero. (This is one reason why keeping your dog on a leash in the forest is so important, especially in the spring when baby animals abound.Even the most well-mannered and well-behaved dog in the world will not be able to control their hunting instinct. If they see the fawn, that’s going to be the end of the fawn.)
This photo was taken in Shenandoah National Park while I was on a morning hike. I was alone, walking quietly along a winding forest trail when suddenly I noticed this fawn, cuddled against a fallen tree just two feet from my spot on the trail! I was so amazed and in the silence I could hear my heart beating excitedly. This was something I had always wanted to see, but thus far, had never.
I stood frozen, in awe of my proximity to this beautiful, wild animal.
I could see the fawn looking at me, maybe wondering if I was a danger. With slow movements, I snapped a few pictures, then moved off joyfully down the trail, thrilled for the chance to witness one of nature’s amazing adaptations.
If you are out and happen to come across what seems like an abandoned fawn, the best thing you can do for it is to leave it alone!
Trust that the mother is nearby and will be keeping an eye on things from a distance. Enjoy the moment, relish your amazing fortune to witness something so incredible, then walk on. In doing this, you will be showing you really do care.
Have you ever gotten a chance to see a fawn, nestled quietly on the forest floor? What was it like for you?