How my brother saved a newborn fawn

tiny spotted baby deer

One day old white-tailed deer fawn in Des Plaines, IL

My big brother Tom called me this Sunday with a deer situation: a newborn fawn was lying in the yard across the street from my mom’s house in Des Plaines, IL. The cops had investigated and, he thought, took the tiny animal. They’re supposed to just leave the baby, I told him. People always think they’re orphaned, but really Bambi’s mom is just out eating and has hidden the fawn in a safe place.

Turns out the cops did the right thing: they left the fawn alone. Tom alerted the neighors. As a New York City wildlife rehabilitator I don’t get a lot of deer calls, so I called my friend Celie Wiltsie, a Poughkeepsie rehabber who gets fawns–but only when she confirms the mother is dead. She said wait 24 hours and then we’ll start worrying. She’s gotten 15 found fawn calls this season. She talked all the finders into leaving the fawn overnight and every one walked off with its mother. Celie told me the doe would come after dark when she thought no one was looking and we’d never see the fawn again.

Fawns in suburban areas do fine, Celie said. They do face cars, dogs and coyotes. But their biggest problem is aspiring human saviors. Typically they take the fawn inside, feed it inappropriate cow’s milk and solids and it deteriorates just as the mom gives up. But if you can get the fawn back out near where it was found within a day or so, the family will reunite and be fine.

The problem is leaving a newborn animal defenseless in the elements is a hard sell. It’s tricky convincing would-be rescuers to walk away. I see why some clever rehabilitator came up with the outrageous lie that animals and birds will smell the human on their babies and reject them. Tom ran into the same obstacle with our neighbor. A storm came and they hid the fawn in the shelter of their garage, feeding it cow’s milk and delighting their kids. The father said he planned to “release” it in the woods in a few days.

Front of the fawn pen in my mom's front yard. The tent is 20 feet away.

“You know it will die if you do that, right?” my brother asked. Then Tom convinced the guy to let Tom move the deer into a pen in my mom’s front yard–with a barrier towards the street. I told Tom he should switch to goat’s milk and he went driving around for hours finding it, then set up a regular feeding schedule. He also set up a tent in my mom’s front yard so he could guard the fawn, but from a distance.

The first day the fawn looked dried out and sickly. By the second day, he was jumping around a bit and making noises. Tom was set to bottle feed him the goat’s milk at 3 a.m., but overslept till 4 a.m. As he was down on the ground nursing the deer, he saw a doe in the yard nextdoor. He scrambled to get the fawn out of the pen and go hide himself in the tent. The fawn walked around, but the smallish doe passed by. Tom thought, oh, no, what is this a random, stranger deer that just happens to be walking by? Then he saw the tiny shadow pass. The fawn walked off with its mother. Tom put up a sign to let everyone know the deer crisis was over and the baby was safe with its mom.


deer Where to SEE DEER (and anteloope and reindeer)


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1 comment to How my brother saved a newborn fawn

  • Jean Ossorio

    Hurrah for Tom! This story deserves wider distribution. I’ll link it on my FB page. ^..^