Update – Spring 2022
I Found a Fawn — What Should I Do?

Natural History

White-tailed deer fawns are born from May to August.  Contrary to what people expect, the doe does not stay with the baby to protect it.  The baby’s protection comes from the color of its coat which provides camouflage in its natural environment; its still posture that prevents it being found due to movement; and its lack of odor that can be detected by predators, either domestic (dog) or wild (coyote).

Mother deer visits to feed the baby when you aren’t around and, if there is unusual activity in the area where the baby has last been “told” by mom to stay put and quiet, she may not visit at all until that changes.  Fireworks, family picnics, a visiting dog — any of these can throw off the feeding schedule for the fawn.  Even so, while the doe may not be visible to you, she is nearby.

Newborn and fawns under two weeks do not travel with the mother.  They aren’t strong enough to keep up with her.  The safest place for them to be is hidden.  Sometimes mom will leave them on your porch, by your sidewalk, in the garden or next to a road.  Communication between mother deer and young fawns is not always foolproof.

When the unexpected happens — a mother is crossing the road with her fawn and a car comes, or a dog enters the yard and the baby is frightened and runs — all is not lost.  Deer can find each other through scent left by the glands between their front hooves.  Since a scent trail is left when a deer walks or runs, there is a trail to follow to bring mother and fawn back together if they are separated.

Sometimes a mother deer jumps a fence and baby can’t follow.  Mother knows where the fawn is and will return.   Most often when people find what they think is an orphaned fawn, it is simply a very young baby that is doing exactly what it should be doing.  They may not even lift their head if you approach and, if they are lifted up, the legs may dangle as if uselessly — all part of following their natural instinct.

When A Fawn Needs Help

Those who help wild creatures when they are in distress are very special.
We know you mean well — and sometimes people do need to intervene:

A baby is in the middle of road where it could be struck by a car, or stuck in a fence that is too small for it to pass through — of course it shouldn’t be left there.  Never touch a baby with your bare hands, but you can use gloves to move the fawn out of danger and up to 100 feet to safety.  Don’t put the baby in the direct sun as its instincts will tell it to lie down, lie still and stay put.  Find a spot near a tree or by a bush where it is shaded from sun or rain.

Sometimes a baby is injured.  Fractures, lacerations, head trauma, blood, diarrhea, spinal injuries, maggots — the mother can’t help the baby in these situations.  If you find a fawn that is suffering from one of these conditions, you need to contact your state Department of Natural Resources for direction.  For Wisconsin, use this link:

Of all the wild babies you might find, there is no species where your response as a finder is more critical than if you encounter a white-tailed deer fawn.  In addition, the presence of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the Wisconsin deer population makes it critical that animals are not moved from where they are found.

Most fawns reported to rehabilitators are not orphaned.  They are safe from predators until humans touch and interfere with them. Do not touch or handle a fawn.  Human touch marks animals with human scent, which makes the fawn discoverable to predators.  Unless they are injured or orphaned, fawns that have been handled must be replaced to the location where they were found.

Of all the injuries a fawn can suffer, human habituation is one of the worst.  Human interaction takes away the necessary fear of humans which is critical to keeping deer safe when they grow up.

Do not post pictures on social media that give the location.  Do not call your neighbors, friends or relatives to come and see the fawn.  Do not let your children pet or touch the fawn.  Keep dogs away.  Any of these things can put a perfectly healthy fawn in danger, and possibly result in death due to stress or disturbance which separates the fawn from its mother.

For the sake of the fawn, if you find what you believe to be an injured or orphaned baby, it is imperative for that animal that you follow these directions:

DO NOT pick up, contain, and transport a fawn without permission.

DO NOT feed the fawn any type of formula or water or any other food.  There is a common urge by caring people to “feed” a baby or give it a drink.  While coming from a compassionate place, feeding formula or giving any type of liquid — including water — will upset the delicate balance of the gut and result in diarrhea that will cause dehydration and death.

Why Can’t Fellow Mortals Work With Fawns?


As you may be aware, the SARS CoV-2 virus has been found in white-tailed deer.  There are no documented cases of humans becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 from white-tailed deer, and the risk is likely low.  So what’s the problem?

A reservoir for human infection:  More infected individuals (human or animal) means more potential exposures for people.  If this virus is present in deer (or other wildlife) that creates more opportunities for exposure.

Potential for virus mutation:  The virus is likely present in the original reservoir host population (presumably bats), but if it gets into other species, especially those that live closer to and interact more with people, and/or are present in larger numbers, the risk of a significant mutation occurring and spilling back into the human population increases.  Because they’re random, mutations can be good or bad for the virus, by making it either more or less transmissible, for example.  What we’re concerned about is emergence of new variants that are more adept at infecting people and/or harder to prevent or treat, and those variants then finding their way from the animal population (in this case deer) back into people, and then spreading from person-to-person.

In the big picture, is SARS-CoV-2 in white-tailed deer a problem?

It’s hard to say.  Currently, human-to-human transmission is still the problem.  New mutations are going to develop in people because of widespread transmission internationally, and until we have good vaccine coverage everywhere we’ll have persistent and high risk of new variants emerging in people.

Deer probably contribute little to the risk, at least at this point.  A susceptible person is still more likely to be infected by another person than by a deer.  To learn more about this issue, visit the “Worms and Germs Blog” post written by Dr. Scott Weese, of the Ontario Veterinary College’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses. You will find it here:

WDNR Changes Rehabilitation Rules for Deer

In 2021, when research indicated that white-tailed deer could become infected with the virus and could transmit it to other deer, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) required enhanced biosecurity for rehabilitators working with fawn, including mandatory release of the fawn before winter, during hunting season, and at an age where all published studies show they have minimal chances of surviving past 30 days. (If you are interested in a copy of these studies, e-mail wildrehab@fellowmortals.org).

Fellow Mortals has no issue with the biosecurity requirements — and in fact our entire animal care staff has been vaccinated — but we do object to the mandatory release of fawn in the fall, and to the requirement of an obvious tag, though we would not be averse to using a discrete metal tag that would achieve the same purpose of identification should a fawn be killed or found dead.

Release Considerations & Natural History

When released in southeastern Wisconsin, rehabilitated fawns will encounter high levels of traffic on the many roads that cut through what were once rural areas, harsh winter conditions that make browse inaccessible to small deer, and predators including coyote and dogs, as well as human hunters.  In Walworth County, hunting “opportunities” do not end until January 31 — and hunters do take fawns during this time, as tagged fawns are reported to us.

Fellow Mortals Follows the Science of Natural History.  For all the years that Fellow Mortals has rehabilitated deer (1989-2003 and 2014-2020) we have released in the spring with the full knowledge of the Department.  A fawn stays with the doe through the winter and does not leave until she gives birth in May or June.

In 2014, we built an expansive and expensive overwintering habitat (unique to the wildlife rehabilitators of Wisconsin) at a remote location, for the express purpose of eliminating the need to drug fawns for transport and release at another location, and eliminating human contact with the fawns in preparation for their return to the wild.

This remote habitat, located on a 52-acre property with no human activity except our rehabilitation staff, encompasses one acre of hilly, wooded acreage that has natural browse and cover, and is equipped with freeze-proof automatic waterers and feeders.  Once the fawns are moved to this habitat, there is no further contact with humans.

There is absolutely NO biosecurity risk.  Release is accomplished by opening a gate in the spring.

Proposal to DNR for Exception to Change in Rehabilitation

Fellow Mortals wrote to the Department and offered to increase our already comprehensive biosecurity as added protection against possible transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to the deer.  We also offered to tag with a discrete metal tag that would suffice to identify a fawn if it was found dead and tested positive for the virus.  But we will not agree to releasing fawn when they are still of an age where they cannot fend off predators or find food in harsh winter conditions, in addition to being entirely naive as to hunters and roads.

The Department did not approve our proposal.

Why do we release in the spring?  The fawns who are orphaned and injured and come to rehabilitators lose something even more important than a wild mother when they come into rehabilitation:  They lose the ability to learn from the doe, which they would be following until the spring — learning how to avoid predators, where to find the best browse, where to bed down in safety for the night.

If you’ve ever seen an orphan fawn try to join a group that is feeding, you will see that the does aren’t kind to the orphan, and he or she will be kicked away and kept to the outskirts of the group.  We get calls every winter about these sad situations Fawns need their mothers to protect them and to teach them.

In lieu of the doe, all we can provide is the company of other fawns.

We can’t do anything to teach the fawn about the sudden danger that hunting season brings with bows or guns, or how moving objects will suddenly overtake them on the smooth surfaces of roads, so it’s incredibly important we give them every other advantage.

Fellow Mortals’ Philosophy of Rehabilitation

All we can do as rehabilitators for any wild being is try to even the odds that injury or orphaning brings by providing the best nutrition, the best care and housing, and the best choice of release habitat and season to give a real chance of surviving past the first few days in the wild.  This is our approach across species.  Keeping the fawns safe in the winter months in their own small herd gives them a fighting chance in the spring.

While we are licensed by the WDNR, we pay the bills with the funds you provide, we provide the care, we talk to you — the people who invest so much in the wild creature you have rescued from its fate — and we use our education, and our experience, as we put our lives and our hearts into the long days, weeks, or months of care necessary to turn tragedy into triumph for a wild one that recovers and is released.

We care deeply about the individual lives entrusted to us by you, and it is simply not possible for us to care for an orphaned, injured fawn knowing that — after fighting for and saving its life — it has very little chance of surviving the winter.

What can you do?

Keep healthy fawns with their mothers:  https://fellowmortals.org/2020/05/01/white-tailed-fawn/
If you’re in southeastern Wisconsin, contact your state Senator & Representative and refer them to this page (https://fellowmortals.org/fawns/). Ask them to consider introducing legislation to create an exception to the rules for rehabilitators who have the facilities to overwinter fawn while meeting the biosecurity requirements of the Wisconsin DNR, so that we can once again help when we are needed.  This will be during the spring 2023 session.

Find your Senator & Representative:  https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/WI

While we always try to keep fawns with their mothers, injured and truly orphaned fawns must come into care.  We are grateful to a change in policy by the Wisconsin DNR that made it possible for us to help white-tailed deer fawns again starting in 2014.

Although we had experience, we no longer had facilities, so in the spring of 2015 we contracted with Pete Roth and his company to construct two half-acre habitats. The fences are 10 feet high and are surrounded by a stockade fence which covers the lower 6 feet, providing privacy and screening the fawns from human activity.


We want to offer our thanks to Dr. Tracy Busalacchi and Dr. Phil Burns for all their help, as well as to Dr. Candace Mathiason, University of Colorado, for diagnostics. Thanks also to Arthur Carlson, who built the fawn enclosure for their initial care.

We are grateful to those of you who donated to this project through
“Jilly’s Legacy,” including: Melita Frankfurth Grunow,
the Buchanan Family Foundation, Marisa & Dan Timm, Pete Roth Fence,
Lowes–Delavan, and the following:

Arthur Carlson
Holly Dempster
Darcy Minkler
Gerald Yager
Wren Ide
Kevin Watts
Tressa Goulding
Angela Farruggia
Lynn Draeger-Ivan

John Crombie
Tammy Alongi
Kelly Greb
Amy Frank
Linda Farmer
Zach Kastern
Roberta Bagni
Carol Sosenko
Lorrie A. Krodel

Toni Roucka
Laura Altmann
Karen Romanyk
Dorothy Bunch
Bryan Olson
Lisa Carlson
Megan Nass
Pamela Densch
Jennifer Wenberg

Liz Bauer
Angie Massaro
Elizabeth Kemper
Becky Redell
Joanne Gasperik
Cara Miller
Paula Harris
Dana Pederson
Kelley Van Egeren

Emma Jinyang Yu
Joseph Webster
Tedford Rose
Bob Helferrich
Beth Shodeen
…as well as several anonymous donors.

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