It’s a time of renewal, a time of regeneration, a time when birds and animals bring forth their newborn and prepare them for a life in the wild.
And it’s a time when well-intentioned humans make a mess of things by “saving” young critters they believe to be “lost” or “abandoned.”
It happens every spring.
People find young fawns curled up in the weeds and automatically assume, just because its mother isn’t around, that she’s been hit by a car, killed by a bear or struck by lightning. Don’t laugh. When faced with a puzzling situation, it’s human nature to let one’s imagination run wild:
“Aww, look! That poor little fawn can’t be more than a few days old, and without its mother it’ll die or get eaten by a coyote or something. We’d better take it home and find out if there’s a zoo or something that can take it.”
Back when I was in college, I heard one of my mentors break down the word “rationalize.”
“It sounds rational, but it’s all lies,” he said.
It’s perfectly rational to assume that a fawn, huddled by itself on the forest floor, might be abandoned. Chances are, however, it isn’t.
White-tailed deer mothers often “park” fawns before going off to forage for food. The fawns know instinctively to stay put until mama comes back. The does who park them don’t forget where to find them.
The very best thing humans can do when they find these “parked” fawns is to leave them alone. Don’t spook them by getting too close. Enjoy the encounter, then go on about your business.
While fishing a boulder- strewn Raleigh County trout stream one day, a friend and I came upon a fawn lying atop a big flat rock smack in the middle of the creek. It eyed us fearlessly as we approached, passed by and continued fishing.
We weren’t being cold or insensitive; instead, we both realized the fawn’s mother would return, probably before we finished fishing and walked back downstream toward our vehicle. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. We fished for another hour or two, and when we returned to the spot, the fawn was no longer there.
Long ago, I interviewed Bill Vanscoy, who at the time was the superintendent at the West Virginia Wildlife Center at French Creek. Vanscoy had some choice words to say about people who had “rescued” fawns and brought them to the center.
“Every spring, we get a bunch of them,” he said, “and nearly all of them are brought in here sick and dehydrated.
“You know why? Because some idiot finds a fawn, assumes it’s lost or orphaned, and takes it home and feeds it a can of Carnation evaporated milk. The milk gives the poor critter a case of the screaming scours, and it ends up dehydrated and on death’s door.
“Those same people then bring the fawn to us and expect us to nurse it back to health. All this could be avoided if folks would just leave young fawns alone.”
The same goes for any young wildlife people might happen to find, including young birds.
Once, while working from my home office, I spotted a fledgling cardinal that had fallen or had flown down from its nest. The chick hopped up and down the sidewalk, cheeping plaintively.
I thought about trying to give the little fellow a boost back up into its nest, but then I saw its mother fly down. Over the course of the next few minutes, she herded her offspring to a nearby bush and, hopping from branch to branch, got the youngster up off the ground and out of harm’s way.
I learned a lesson that day — that if we humans will just step back and wait, nature usually takes care of its own.