The other day I made a startlingly discovery in my wildlife garden. A quick flash of movement outside my office window drew my attention away from my computer screen and outside my window, into my garden.
While I was too late to see what had caused the flash of movement, I did see what was left behind…a little white-tailed deer fawn.
I’ve seen lots of different wildlife in my garden, small mammals, numerous birds and the odd toad and snake, but never a baby deer splayed out across the grass, looking, quite frankly, dead. I was so surprised, I really didn’t know what to do first.
Watch & Wait?
I watched the fawn from my window for several minutes and it did not seem to be moving, much less breathing. I was convinced it was dead. But what could have happened? It didn’t look injured, I couldn’t see any visible wounds or blood. I grabbed my camera and went out side to take a closer look.
After several moments of watching the little fawn, I realized it was alive – if I watched closely, I could see it breathing very shallowly. I figured I was probably scaring the poor thing and adding to its stress so I decided to head back inside and observe from my office.
Fast forward about 20 minutes and the fawn is still laying in the exact same spot in the garden. This cannot be a good sign. I needed some advice on what to do, or not do.
Not knowing who to turn to but assuming there must be several local agencies in the area that would help, I goggled ‘wildlife rescue Stamford, CT’ and up popped a list of several wildlife rescue and rehabilitation agencies. I started dialing and leaving messages (it was early on a Sunday morning). Then I watched and waited some more.
The early morning shadows were disappearing and before long, the fawn was laying partially in the sun. As I was trying to figure out the best, least invasive, way to provide some shade, I got another surprise. The fawn lifted her head and looked right at me.
OK, so she wasn’t dead after all, she was just playing dead!
After looking around for a few seconds, she shakily got up and went in search of her own spot in the shade.
She found herself a shady little nook, nestled in the pachysandra and snuggled up close to a dogwood tree. If I hadn’t known she was there, I would have looked right past her.
The wildlife rescue agencies, Wildlife in Crisis, Wild Wings and Tailor’s Wildlife Rescue Group, started calling back and I learned I was not the only homeowner who had found an abandoned fawn in my garden. The agencies were getting a record number of calls this spring. Seems a lot of people have fawns in their gardens this spring.
No, the fawn was not truly abandoned. The doe had left her alone, in my garden, to keep her safe while she went out to forage for food. The recently born fawn simply can’t keep up with the herd.
Yes, the little fawn, who looks so helpless, actually has a few interesting defense mechanisms to fall back on. Mom leaving her alone is one. And apparently fawns are born without a scent so they are ‘invisible’ to would-be predators. The fawn’s dappled coat and ability to stay still for long periods of time are also defense mechanisms. They both help to camouflage the little guy until mom returns, anywhere from 24 – 48 hours later.
No, I was not supposed to try to feed the fawn.
No, I should not touch it. (Confession time…I couldn’t resist the soft fur so I’d already touched the fawn.)
Yes, I would know if it needed immediate help…it would bleat loudly, like a goat. And if the mother was in the area she would come quickly because she would hear her baby’s cries for help. And if the mother din’t come, I should call back.
Yes, by all means, call back tomorrow if the fawn is still in the same spot.
While never really acknowledging it before, I guess I’ve always assumed my garden should be an oasis for the animals I like or somehow approve of. Planting larval host plants for butterflies or shrubs that could be nesting spot for birds were very real and conscious decisions.
But creating a garden that would be seen by deer as a safe haven for her fawn? Certainly I hadn’t meant to do that, had I?
How extraordinary that my number one garden nemesis, a deer, decides to entrust her baby to my garden. And that she deposits her fawn right outside my office window? I’ve tended this garden for two decades and have never seen a fawn left alone like this. I’m sure it’s probably happened before but never in such a visible way. How did I feel about this ‘trust’ the deer had placed in my garden?
As I checked in on the fawn periodically throughout the day, I thought about that question.
On the one hand, as the number of deer skyrockets here in Connecticut, they are becoming more and more of a nuisance, as they are in other parts of the country. I spend way too much time, energy and money just trying to keep them out of my garden and away from my plants.
They can be so destructive, devouring leaves and, more frustrating, flower buds just before they are about to open. The sense of defeat I feel at times when I see the damage caused in one single night can be so disheartening. It’s no wonder deer are on my ‘not welcome’ list.
But on the other hand, the sense of awe and protectiveness I felt for the few hours the fawn was taking refuge in my garden was new for me. And, if I’m being truthful, I enjoyed it. It forced me to take a fresh look at my wildlife garden and to see it a bit more objectively than I may have in the past.
Creating a wildlife garden means accepting the good, the bad and the unwelcome aspects of it.
While I’d be happy to see another fawn take refuge in my garden, not too surprisingly, I will still wage the daily battle of keeping the deer away from plants. I have to draw the line somewhere.
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