Thursday, June 9, 2011

One By One The Whitetail Fawns Appear- Until They Are Eaten!

By now it appears that most if not all of the pregnant does in the local whitetail deer herd have given birth, but there had been no additional sightings since the first on May 18th--until just a few days ago.  One can usually tell if birthing has occurred by looking closely at the doe's abdomen and flank area, but it can be tricky as their abdomen can still appear distended from a side view, especially if they are an older doe that has had many fawns down through the years. If is better if they present a view from either end, which makes it easy to see that they are no longer as round as the proverbial 55 gallon barrel.

Doe One Day After Giving Birth: Note Sunken Flanks

I see the doe in the photo above on an almost daily basis, so it seemed likely that when she didn't appear on June 6th that she was giving birth.  Sure enough, when she came to the meadow on the following morning, her flanks were sunken and the ribs were easily visible.  After feeding for a time she left and was gone about thirty minutes, when suddenly a young fawn came lurching from the tall grass in the unsteady gait of the recently born and the doe came into view close behind.  At the time I was filming birds and squirrels with the Canon XL-H1 so I switched it to them.  After recording some exciting interaction between the doe, the fawn, and another young doe, I switched to the Canon 7D and the 300mm F2.8 for still photographs.

Doe Nuzzles Recently Born Fawn
It is always a thrill to see the young fawns at this stage in life and observe their bright eyed curiosity about the strange world they find themselves in.and to see how protective the does are of them.  This is when they are the cutest and most photogenic, but it is not always easy to see them at this period. Sometimes they are relatively easy to see within a few days of birth, but this is often followed by a period in which sightings are  rare until they start traveling full time with the does, which usually happens sometime in July. 

 Does Are Very Protective Of The Young
It is common for mature does to have twins, but it is not always easy to know if this is the case as they ordinarily hide the fawns in separate places some distance apart  to lessen the chances of both animals being killed by predators, and they are often seen traveling with only one fawn at a time.  This threat is very real as fellow photographer, and blogger, Jim Borden and his wife Joan  found out first hand on a recent trip to Shenandoah Nation Park where they observed a coyote killing two fawns.  In a likely once in a lifetime opportunity, they were able to photograph this.  For the full story and exceptional deer and coyote photographs, visit Jim and Joan at JJ Wildlife Photography.

In a lot of cases one will see a fawn for a day or so and then never see it again, or it may be certain that a doe did give birth because of the sunken flanks and abdomen, but a fawn never appears and one doesn't know if it died during birth, from disease, or predation.  In this case I was able to gain more insight* into how many fawns this doe had.  At first I noticed her nursing a single fawn in the same spot the earlier photos were taken, but then she and the fawn walked into a small mountain stream.  I had to make a decision as to which camera to use, so I decided to focus on video with a  DSLR, which gave me the option to get  both still and video.  I had difficulty positioning the camera because of intervening shrubbery and grass, but surprise of surprises, when I was ready to film and looked through the finder, there were two fawns nursing from the doe.  At one point I paused from filming to take a few still photographs.

Doe With Twins

It will be interesting to see if I continue to see them frequently, or if they will vanish for a time, or forever.  One can only hope they are able to avoid predators and the other hazards that a young fawn faces.

*Note I only said "gain insight".  While it is likely that she had twins, one cannot rule out triplets, or that she was nursing another doe's fawn.  The only statement I can make that can be absolutely judged to be scientifically true  is that I saw and filmed her nursing two fawns.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill