Saturday, September 6, 2008
Why is there a fawn in my yard? Or where you are born and biology.
Apple is now a few days past his three-week mark of life. His birth date may seem rather late to many, but here in Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the majority of deer births occur from late July into mid August, but any where from April to November is game. John Ozoga, in his book ¬Whitetail Summer, relates that researchers have designated three phases of a nursing fawn’s life. A fawn’s first phase is the seclusion phase which last the first ten days and while they weigh less than eleven pounds. The next phase is the transitional phase, which last approximately from ten to fifty days and within a weight range of eleven to thirty-three pounds. The last nursing phase is the juvenile ruminant phase where the fawn is aged fifty to one-hundred days old and weight range of thirty-three to fifty-five pounds. Apple now is long beyond the seclusion phase and into his transitional phase.
In the seclusion phase, a fawn moves little; what activity he carries out is during the day when most predators of fawns are inactive. The fawn stays hidden, which is its main defense against predation. This part of a fawn’s life is when it is most vulnerable as it may not be able to out run predator. The mother does not stay with the fawn in order not to draw attention to the youngster. A newborn fawn is nearly scentless if the mother stayed next to the fawn she would leave a substantial scent trail for predators to follow. The mother will run away from the area the fawn is in if disturbed; this tact may draw predators away from the baby. At this stage, the fawn is utterly dependent upon the mother. He will nurse two may be three times a day. The doe will groom him, and during the grooming session, she will nuzzle the fawn’s rump to evoke a voiding response of the bladder and gut and then she will eat the waste to minimize scent around the fawn. Apple during his seclusion phase only used two bedding sites; one just beyond the button bushes in the grass by the lake edge and about ten yards away, the one up on high ground by the ditch. I found his tracks only to those two sites bed sites.
In many references, the size of a fawning ground is reported as twenty to thirty acres. For my doe’s fawning site, this seems unlikely. West up the hill going up Green Mountain is a neighbor hood giving way to thick, steep, woods. Abutting the mountain to the south are some fields mixed with housing. Directly east and north of my yard is quite an expanse of housing. Directly south are a few houses that turn from house to corn, and soybean fields that extend eastward to the lowland area of the Flint River (the farm field area, sadly, is slated for a school and housing district with two hundred plus houses). There are pockets of trees in there and some edge habitat and a few yards that probably offer up yummy browse in an area that would be twenty acres, but it doesn’t seems a large quantity of high quality deer browse and fawn cover habitat. Where Apple’s mommy chose to have him is perhaps a fifteenth of an acre of edge habitat and quality cover (quality deer browse flourishes in edge habitats).
So why is the north side of my yard so appealing? Cover for one thing. Browse is another, of what is available, it is pretty good and includes landscape plants (my begonias and tomatoes, located near the house, are gone now). The neighbor’s fences fronts the lake, but leaves a corridor that they keep mowed with a narrow scrub margin next to the lake providing passage, cover, and browse. This year a dead spruce tree opened up the sky and the apple trees had a bow-busting bumper crop, and her tracks regularly lead up to the tree where she is browsing on twigs, leaves, and fruit. The over grown garden offers browse for the doe, and an overgrown adjacent field also contains some eats (deer are selective browsers and generally do not eat grass except for tender new shoots). Across the street to the south are a large garden to pick through, a small apple orchard, and a large fig bush for desert. Of course, the doe is packing away a pound or two plus a day of the ever-present duck food, and if she gets really hungry she is deft at working the bird feeders for food. Importantly, the lake’s waters-edge presents another rich transition environment for browse, water (lactating does require supplemental water daily), and a protective barrier. Always keep in mind that whitetail deer are ecological generalist-in other words they live pretty much everywhere and have learned to live where humans live. Predators are limited. No coyotes traipse about the yard. The yard has not been part of a fox’s range since the cheeky fox lived here two years ago. Despite a young grey fox attempting to steal BBQ this spring; he has not seemed to hung around and made the yard part of his territory. Bobcats are certainly down in the lowland area about the Flint, but they do not habituate my yard. Dogs rarely are seen roaming about. Our new neighbor has an affable yellow lab who is pretty oblivious to the world (and the fact there are deer next door). When they moved in they installed a wireless fence and the lab is restricted to his yard. However, the mere presence of his scent may keep predators such as fox out for a while, at least until they figure out the dog is not a threat.
Why not choose the low land habitat down the hill at the Goldsmith-Schiffman preserve to fawn; it is great deer habitat-lots of edge, great browse, cornfields, water, and cover? Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and feral hogs found there are threats to fawns to say the least. You might wonder how pigs are a threat; feral hogs will eat about everything including stumbling upon a small hiding fawn and eating it (they would not hunt them down, but if they found one they would probably eat it, as they would ground nestling baby birds, and small turtles etc.). Hogs also very effectively compete with deer for browse and mast like acorns. Another reason not to fawn down there is that there already are many deer there.
to be continued...
© Pam Croom 2008