Surprising Find in my Wildlife Garden

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.

Fawn in Connecticut garden


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.

Fawn seeks some 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.

Questions Answered

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.

Lessons Learned

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.


© 2012, Debbie Roberts. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Mary Pellerito says

    I really needed to read this post today. Deer had eaten a lot of my vegetable plants so I was very disheartened. I decided to grow vegetables in containers on the back deck. I would like wildlife to consider my gardens a safe haven.
    Mary Pellerito recently posted..Following Mother Nature’s Lead

    • says

      Mary, I’m so glad you found this post when you needed it most. I can certainly relate to the endless frustrations that deer seem to cause. I really do wish I could find a way to peacefully co-exist with them since I know they need my garden but I am so sick of finding my plants chewed down to nubs.
      Debbie Roberts recently posted..A Most Surprisingly Find in My Garden

  2. says

    Wonderful post Deb! Love your second and last photos!! I understand your transformation in thought about these beauties and the constant need to be firm with them as well. I gladly accept the awe with the angst. I think the mothers know being closer to a building is safer from predators. Who knows they may be watching us and sense the safety too. . . especially in a more natural native setting. All purely projections here. The number of fawns left in my garden ‘nursery’ have only been left for several hours . . . I have never heard of a doe leaving her fawn for 48 hours, but I am sure the biologist know what they are speaking about. Thank you for the link!
    Carol Duke recently posted..Orange Unfurling Oriental Poppies and Baltimore Oriole

    • says

      Carol, 48 hours seemed extreme to me, too and I was so glad to wake up te next morning and find the fawn gone. The expereince did make me marvel at how self-sufficent other mammal baby’s are compared to humans. Imagine leaving a child alone for 48 hours while you’re off ‘foragaing’?
      Debbie Roberts recently posted..A Most Surprisingly Find in My Garden

  3. says

    I so enjoyed your pictures of your sweet fawn. What a wonderful morning surprise!!! Last summer I posted in my blog (Tulip Trees and Turkeys ~ I have both!!!) – Oh Deer – Oh Yes!!! – – my personal way of having my cake and eating it too. I have a native, natural wildlife garden that has been on display in garden tours on the East End of Long Island and, yes, my deer are most welcome daily visitors. Also on the post are links to Flickr pictures of my NWF certified garden and the wild-friends who visit. Thanks for all your posts … I do so enjoy them!!!

  4. says

    What a wonderful experience. And we all have such mixed feelings about deer. The only fawn that I found in my garden was indeed dead, and I actually found it by the terrible smell, as the body was lying out in hot sun hidden in the tall grass. It had no signs of injury, but something had caused it to die while being “kept safe” in the meadow. How nice that your little fawn was safe (but how frustrating when she returns as an adult to nibble everything!)
    Laurrie recently posted..What, No Blooms?

  5. Sue Sweeney says

    Part of having a deer population totally out of control, as Debbie and I are experiencing, is that we can’t welcome a fawn as a joyous event, when we know the consequences of the deer over-population for us, the other wildlife, and even this little adorable little fawn.

  6. says

    Deb what a fabulous encounter….it is hard not to try and touch them…I learned so much in case we see one which I doubt…when they are big enough to jump the fence they forage or forage the side and front…it is a hard dilemma when they are destructive and there is so much food other than my garden….but we do have to share our gardens…wow Deb what a wonderful post.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..A Special Garden Book Review

  7. says

    Hi Deb, loved your morning surprise! What beautiful photos and what helpful tips for the rest of us. I have not had the luck of a baby visitor but have had yearlings curl up in my yard. Unlike you the deer have not done much damage to my gardens, so far and I try to share what I do have with them and my backyard visitors. I will have to see how my berry grove fairs though before laying down a red carpet.

    • says

      Cori, Good luck with your berry grove, I would imagine the deer would typically eat the berries but hopefully, since it sounds like you don’t have a lot of deer pressure in your garden, you’ll get to eat more than the deer.Now the birds might be a different story. I have several blueberries in my garden and I don’t think I’ve ever had more than a handful berries myself, but I planted them with the birds i mind so that’s OK.
      Debbie recently posted..A Most Surprisingly Find in My Garden

  8. says

    As one who shares your deer foraging problems I certainly understand how you look at this fawn with mixed feelings. The mothering instinct comes out because the fawn appears so helpless yet, you know the damage it can/will do as it grows. I wonder if this particular deer will feel more at home in your garden since its mother left it there for safety. Is your yard now imprinted in the baby’s memory as a safe place?

    Though I curse the damage deer do, I accept they are part of the ecosystem in which I choose to garden. This is difficult to do in light of the extreme numbers of deer in my location (we each live in the Connecticut regions with the highest deer density). I try to encourage deer to remain at the edges of the woods surrounding my property. Any new youngsters that hang around quickly learn there’s a crazy lady living here that chases them away. I hope it imprints on them to stay clear.
    joene at joene’s garden recently posted..Now you sedum … potted.

  9. says

    This is a really great post to demonstrate how difficult it can be to tell if wildlife is in need or not. I have our SPCA wildlife department’s phone number in my cell as we live on a pond and there is usually some kind of rescue needed somewhere. People who find birds bring them to me to “help them” and in some cases they need it and in others they don’t. I have resources on my blog about rehab and how to know when to call for help and how to assist in the meantime. I was being mentored by a wonderful wildlife rehabber who has since passed away…Michelle
    Rambling Woods recently posted..Nature Notes (#164)~Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning that they are critical to an ecosystem. The work of pollinators ensures full harvests of crops and contributes to healthy plants everywhere.

    • says

      Michelle, I’m so sorry to hear about your mentor’s passing. It does sound like you were fortunate to have had a relationship with some a generous person. As you’ve pointed out, sometimes the most angst-filled part of having a wildlife garden is knowing what to do if any of the wildlife needs help.It’s an experience most of us encounter very rarely.
      Debbie recently posted..A Most Surprisingly Find in My Garden

  10. says

    Like most Connecticut gardeners, I too have deer. In fact, I’m on a deer trail–they’ve worn a path right down to the bedrock in my yard. Because, like you, at least part of my yard is wooded, I don’t use repellants–I figure man has taken enough habitat from the deer–they do need something to eat. It can be a little heart-breaking, however, when they come for my non-reblooming hydrangea canes in the winter.

    While I’ve not had fawns, my neighbors have. Instead, in winter they use my woods to bed down for the night on occasion. I’ve had as many as 6 or 7 sleeping there. It’s kind of a touching sight.

    Enjoyed the post!

    Karla recently posted..You’ve Got a Lot of Gall!

    • says

      Karla, If only the deer would eat those things that grow back quickly or won’t influence the way the garden will look for months, I’d be more understanding. A nip here or there on a reblooming hydrangea is forgivable but not so with a regular hydrangea. It’s funny, I’m much less likely to actually see deer in my garden in the winter…I see the damage but not the deer.
      Debbie recently posted..A Most Surprisingly Find in My Garden

  11. says

    what a story..I learned alot…it seems so strange that he was in the sun lying like that…….deer are Creations of beauty and they eat plants…..I hate hunters….i will let all animals eat what they want and protect the plants I dont want to lose..

  12. Sean Solomon says

    It is painful to watch these nocturnal animals foraging for food in the middle of the day, when they should be asleep, but they are so hungry. Right here in the city of Philadelphia! The fawns are cute, with their white spots. It is sad to see them on the ground here in Morris Park, knowing they will be facing a life of starvation and misery, as well as disease. Love your post about the fawn. Hopefully their will be enough hunters out there in the future to keep this species in a healthy state. What will we do when the deer are overpopulated beyond our control, are suffering greatly, and we as humans are suffering as well from lymes disease and deer accidents?


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