Seeing a deer is a common experience, seeing a fawn is less so, the baby is carefully hidden behind mother or set back a few steps to keep attention on her rather than her fawn. Last week a doe was feeding under an old apple tree near Green Valley Rd. Her fawn was small and still had her bright white spots, possibly only a few weeks old. The spots help the baby blend in with the dappled summer sun under the trees. Those spots fade in the fall and the fawn develops a grey-ish cast to provide winter camouflage. Gestation is six to seven months, the fawns typically are born in May-June which provides does the more abundant forage of summer and gives her baby a better shot at survival.
The doe stood on her slender legs, her long, black tongue wrapped around a juicy apple. She stood on all four feet, looking after baby, her sweet prize in the dry grass on the ground. She nibbled contentedly as baby came over to see what mom was up to. The fawn gave the apple a sniff, wagged her tiny tail and tiptoed back to the bug she had been watching.
Impossibly small, impossibly cute, the fawn will nurse until fall begins. The doe will teach her fawn what is safe to eat, the most common wild plant in our state, poison oak, is a favorite food for coastal deer. The doe will gradually wean the baby and be ready to breed again in December-January. The young fawn is referred to as a yearling even though her first birthday may be six months away. Yearlings will commonly stay close to the doe until the new baby comes with the beginning of summer. Young bucks will gradually drift away to spend time playing with the other boys in their family group. Black tail deer stay in small groups of does and yearlings and are highly social. Mature males, bucks, travel with other males, the older bucks will play-fight with the youngsters until the winter breeding season approaches. The pecking order becomes serious as the older bucks vie for the doe’s attention. Some bucks may approach another family of does and yearlings, particularly if their bucks are young and easily dominated. Coastal black-tail are not migratory and typically stay within a three-mile home range. Mature bucks range much farther and can become solitary.
Bucks lose their horns just after breeding season, the shed horns provide calcium for the small forest critters, new horns begin in April. New horn growth is covered in a thin skin, velvet, and nurtures the new growth until late summer. Bucks rub their horns on trees and brush to scent mark their territory. Only males grow horns and can begin in the yearlings in their first year, typically only small single-tines, a spike. Each year a buck’s horns begin as knobs on their head and will branch into forks. Although there is no hard and fast rule, bucks will grow forks in their second year and the forks will fork again in their third year, from there on their horns may go back to forks again but the horn will become thicker, heavy and grow wider. Deer might live twenty years in captivity, in the wild ten years or less. If there is heavy pressure by predators or hunters, a bucks life may only average three to six years. Does may provide twins and even triplets some years.
The cars watching the lovely mother and fawn began to make the doe nervous, she spoke to baby and trotted off, the fawns legs, seemingly on springs, as she followed her mother to cover.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.