It’s fawning season in California. No, I’m not referring to the standard practice of would-be political candidates, but the annual time when female deer give birth to their young. Our deer are called mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), named for their large mule-like ears. They may also be called black-tailed deer, for the other side of the animal. The male is called a buck, the female is a doe and the young are fawns. The word “deer” is the same in the singular and plural form.
Deer are some of the most endearing (pun intended) animal residents of Cambria, especially the spotted fawns, born from May to July. Twins are the rule, although singles and triplet fawns are observed. Like all mammals, baby deer are born alive and nourished by their mother’s milk.
Fawns weigh 6 to 9 pounds at birth and spend much of their first week hidden in the grass while their mother forages to produce milk for her young.
Deer are herbivores — they eat grasses, shrubs, acorns and tree bark. In Cambria neighborhoods, deer will clean up spilled seeds from the bird feeder, nibble on garden flowers and sample fruit on the ground. It is illegal to intentionally feed deer in California. While no one will get a ticket for giving up a few rose buds or fuschia flowers, there are good reasons for deer not to become too familiar with humans, backyards and pets.
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Deer are wild animals and rely upon their survival skills. Dependence on human food reduces their ability to survive on their own. Mother deer are very protective of their young. Humans and dogs are perceived as predators. I once saw a Jack Russell terrier confront a doe and her fawn, barking loudly as if forbidding them to pass. The doe glared at the little dog, then kicked it across the street, pouncing on it repeatedly.
During the summer, bucks grow impressive antlers they use later to fight for mating rights. The antlers are covered with “velvet” tissue rich in blood vessels and hormones to speed growth. In the fall,
after fawns are weaned, females come into heat and the mating or “rutting” season begins. Deer become incautious, with does leaping onto the highway as bucks trail them in hot pursuit. As the rutting reaches full swing, we see more deer that have been hit by cars along the side of the highway.
Deer are the mountain lion’s primary prey. There has been more than one story of part-time Cambria residents arriving at their second home to find a deer carcass in the back yard or a mountain lion sunning on the deck.
All warm-blooded animals can carry ticks, which are hosts for disease, including Lyme disease, named for the town where it was first diagnosed; its spread was considered to have been caused in part by a large deer population.
Remember to use extra caution when driving during fawning and rutting season. Keeping deer away from the yard and pets keeps our neighborhoods healthy and safe for everyone.