Injured and Orphaned Deer

Members of the general public should not attempt to approach or handle any white-tailed deer, not even fawns. Deer can inflict serious injury, and they can be carriers of disease and parasites that are transmittable to humans and domestic animals. If you find a sick, injured or suspected orphaned deer, leave the animal where you found it. Call the local animal control office or police department for assistance if the deer poses a threat to public health or safety. Wildlife Rehabilitators with permits to care for deer issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) can also provide advice.

You can contact the IDNR wildlife biologist assigned to your county for advice if you encounter a sick or injured deer. However, the biologists do not have the ability to use tranquilizers to immobilize deer so that the deer can be removed from an area and treated. Call the local police department (non-emergency number) if a deer has been severely injured in a vehicle collision. Be aware that the police department may not respond if the deer is still capable of walking. Deer can survive and recover from fairly severe collisions with vehicles—broken and fractured bones often heal with time. Additionally, police officers may be prohibited from going onto private property due to liability concerns. Since deer are large, powerful animals it is usually safer and kinder to humanely kill a critically injured deer than to expose it to the additional stress of capture, restraint, and treatment. Never chase an injured deer. Chasing an injured deer without a way to chemically immobilize and restrain the animal only endangers the deer and the public.

It is illegal to care for sick, injured, or orphaned deer in Illinois unless you have a rehabilitator permit to care for deer from the IDNR. Individuals with deer rehabilitator permits may assist orphaned deer if necessary. However, few Illinois wildlife rehabilitators have the appropriate additional permit or the facility and equipment necessary to successfully treat adult white-tailed deer.

Orphaned Fawns

Fawns can stand and run slowly within a few hours after they are born. However, for the first weeks of life, they avoid predation by remaining motionless in areas of cover; their spotted coat providing camouflage in the broken patterns of sunlight reaching the floor of wooded areas.

The spotted coat of a fawn helps it to blend in with its surroundings. Photo courtesy of Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

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Fawns are often found alone, because does (female deer) spend very small amounts of time with their fawns. It is unlikely that you will see the doe come in to nurse the fawn, even if you watch for several hours. Does typically nurse their fawns for a short time at dawn and dusk.

Sometimes fawns end up in strange places, such as in window wells or on sunny porch steps. If you find a fawn by itself do not move it unless it is in immediate harm’s way. If the fawn must be moved, try to find cover nearby so that the doe can find the fawn when she returns to nurse it. A doe has a very strong behavioral tie to her fawn(s) and human scent does not cause abandonment.

In almost every case involving an “orphaned” fawn, people misguidedly tried to help fawns that were not truly orphaned. Fawns found alone that appear well nourished with bright, clear eyes do not need help. The condition of an orphaned fawn will deteriorate quickly if it is not nursing. However, because young fawns are small and spindly-looking, it can be hard for those without training to tell if the fawn is well nourished. It is best to leave the fawn where you found it. Fawns require special care to survive. Do not feed the fawn or attempt to care for it yourself. It is illegal to keep a fawn unless you have a permit. Taking a fawn from its natural habitat and teaching it to associate food with humans is doing the fawn a disservice. Once the fawn matures, it will be too large to stay in a house or garage.

Does leave their fawns unattended for several hours at a time. However, the doe is nearby, even if she is out of sight. Photo courtesy of Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

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These illegally kept deer are often released in a natural area once they are grown, but they are likely to suffer an early death. Deer habituated to people may also pose a danger to pets and people, especially during deer mating season.

Does often leave their fawns alone for extended periods of time. They are typically nearby, even if you do not see them. And they may act aggressively to protect their young if they feel that they are in danger. Photo courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

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Aggressive Behavior of Does

Female white-tailed deer can be very protective mothers and will defend their young from predators. Does may view domestic dogs as potential predators and may act quickly and aggressively to drive a dog away from the fawn(s), even if the dog is in the owner’s backyard or is on a leash being walked by the owner. Does that have lost fear of people may act aggressively toward humans who wander too close to their fawns. This is a temporary situation.  Does often will have their fawns in locations away from other does. This insures that the fawns imprint on their mothers and not on another doe. In urban or suburban areas, these fawning sites may quite often be in secluded backyards with plenty of plant life for protective cover. However, once the fawns are strong enough on their legs to keep up with their mother, the female will lead them back to where she typically lives. In the interim, it is best for the homeowner’s family and pet dogs to give the fawn in their yard a wide berth (e.g., walk your dog in the front yard if there is a newborn fawn in the backyard).