Keep wild an­i­mals where they be­long

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors @out­

The spring nest­ing sea­son has reached its peak.

Dur­ing the past few weeks, I’ve been ob­serv­ing a pair of wrens build a nest and start rais­ing their young in one of our bird­houses.

The pair was quite noisy as they cel­e­brated the first ex­cit­ing weeks of do­mes­tic bliss to­gether. But the eggs have hatched and the young’uns are mak­ing the racket now, beg­ging for food from sun-up to sun-down. I’m sure the par­ents wouldn’t mind a lit­tle break.

I get quite a chuckle watch­ing the hap­less par­ents re­turn to the nest ev­ery few min­utes with an­other meal in tow. My kids gave me the bird­house a cou­ple of years ago, and un­til now we hadn’t had any birds take up res­i­dence. It’s a large, ce­ramic owl and the en­trance to the in­te­rior is through the

owl’s mouth.

It’s no sur­prise we haven’t had any tak­ers then, be­cause in the wild, small birds nor­mally try to avoid big preda­tors like owls. Much to our de­light, these wrens have de­cided the owl is the per­fect place to call home, though.

While birds are busy nest­ing, many other wild an­i­mals are start­ing to wel­come their young into the world.

Late May to early June is the prime birthing sea­son for white-tailed deer in South­ern Mary­land. If you spend a good deal of time out­side, you might en­counter a baby deer, called a fawn, dur­ing your ad­ven­tures. Many times peo­ple as­sume they have found an or­phaned deer. But this is al­most cer­tainly

never the case.

Dur­ing the first few weeks of a fawn’s life, the mother deer, called a doe, keeps the baby hid­den on the ground in a field or for­est, re­unit­ing only a cou­ple of times a day to nurse. The mother keeps her dis­tance most of the time, although she’s usu­ally within a hun­dred yards of her fawn, keep­ing watch for preda­tors and an at­ten­tive eye on her baby.

While fawns are al­most odor­less, adult deer give off a strong scent that can alert preda­tors to their lo­ca­tion. The doe will for­age for food nearby and sleep apart from the fawn to keep the de­fense­less baby safe.

Fawns in­stinc­tively curl up and lay mo­tion­less wher­ever

their mother leaves them. Mother Na­ture, that wise old gal, gave baby deer spots for a rea­son, and not just to make them cuter than they al­ready are. Those spots help fawns blend into their sur­round­ings, mim­ick­ing the sun-dap­pled ar­eas of the ground in the field or for­est where the baby is hid­den.

Af­ter a few weeks ex­clu­sively nurs­ing and stay­ing cam­ou­flaged on the ground, fawns will be­gin to fol­low their moth­ers on for­ag­ing trips and even­tu­ally, af­ter two months or so, are fully weaned and liv­ing on a plant-based diet just like an adult deer.

Many deer pass through our neigh­bor­hood. he first few sum­mers in our house, I viewed them as a nui­sance. They would eat ev­ery sin­gle one of my beau­ti­ful hosta plants down to mere nubs in a night.

I tried all sorts of de­ter­rents, in­clud­ing an ef­fec­tive pu­tri­fied liq­uid rot­ten egg spray. Once dry, the smell is un­de­tectable to the hu­man nose, but deer can still smell the of­fen­sive odor and won’t eat the leaves

that have been sprayed with it. I’ll warn you, though, your neigh­bors aren’t go­ing to want to be out­side when you’re squirt­ing that stuff around your yard.

Early one morn­ing I hap­pened to see the cul­prits that ate my hostas out my front win­dow. A mother deer and her two fawns cau­tiously crossed the neigh­bor’s front yard and slipped into the woods be­yond.

As I was turn­ing away, a slight move­ment caught my eye and I spied a third fawn step­ping out from the bushes, fol­low­ing its mother and sib­lings into the trees. I

never sprayed the plants again and didn’t bat an eye­lash the morn­ing I dis­cov­ered that all the glad­i­o­lus blooms and leaves were com­pletely eaten and only bare stalks were left be­hind.

By this point, I was a mother my­self, and knew three mouths were a lot to feed. The doe and her fawns were wel­come to find a meal in my yard. I saw the same doe again the next sum­mer with three more fawns, but that was the last time. Deer usu­ally stay in the same gen­eral lo­ca­tion where they were born, so the doe must have moved on to God’s

greener pas­tures af­ter that.

It’s a rare sight in­deed to see triplet fawns. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture Wildlife Ser­vices, twin fawns are very com­mon. Triplets oc­cur when the mother is older and if good-qual­ity habi­tat and food re­sources aren’t avail­able to sus­tain a healthy deer pop­u­la­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, bi­ol­o­gists have dis­cov­ered that in twin and triplet sets of white-tailed deer, the fawns are of­ten sired by dif­fer­ent bucks. That’s not an un­usual phe­nom­e­non in the an­i­mal world. If you’ve ever seen a lit­ter of kit­tens or pup­pies and the off­spring look like they are var­i­ous breeds, that’s be­cause they prob­a­bly are.

Spring is a very busy sea­son for wildlife. Although well-in­ten­tioned, in­ter­fer­ing with Mother Na­ture al­most never ends well for the an­i­mals. It’s dif­fi­cult to pro­vide the com­plex bal­anced nu­tri­tion nec­es­sary for young an­i­mals to de­velop prop­erly, and they can’t learn es­sen­tial sur­vival skills with­out a par­ent around.

Wild an­i­mals that are re­leased from cap­tiv­ity rarely live past a few months in the wild. Keep wild an­i­mals where they be­long — in the wild.

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