Picture if you will a tranquil scene: two innocent, speckled twin fawns gently frolicking together on soft green grasses as their mother looks on protectively nearby. WFDD listener and Winston-Salem resident Donna Jaffe has front row seats to scenes like this one in her own backyard, and she's curious about something:
“Do twin fawns stay friends or pals after they grow up?”
For this week's Carolina Curious, WFDD's David Ford starts at the very beginning — and that's a very fine place to start.
When European settlers first arrived here in the Piedmont, white-tailed deer were plentiful. But within a century those populations were practically wiped out from over-hunting. Today, about a million of the animals call North Carolina home, and they're so adaptable, they can be found in just about every type of habitat — including neighborhoods like the west side of Winston-Salem where Donna Jaffe and her husband live.
“So, last year, I often saw a doe and twin fawns come into my yard and eat my vegetables and my wildflowers, and the fawns would play together,” says Jaffe. “And then later in the season I would see just the fawns. Mom told them you can go up there in that yard, but stay together, so they'd stay together.”
These days, that's about par for the course, according to North Carolina Wildlife Resources Biologist Jason Smith. Over the years, he's been getting more and more phone calls from urban-area homeowners complaining about deer eating their ornamental shrubs and other landscaping plants. He says the conflict is inevitable as the human population expands into what was once wooded deer territory
“Deer are very generalist, and they learn to adapt especially if there's a good nutrition food source and they feel safe and secure in these urban areas,” says Smith. “And oftentimes urban areas don't have hunting. The cities that don't have that don't really have a good control mechanism to help keep the population sort of in check as in the more rural areas where you have hunting, and they're being harvested.”
As the number of urban deer continues to grow, so does the strain on the animals' relationship with their two-legged neighbors — us. The maximum number of deer, or other animal species, that the human population will tolerate, forms what Smith calls the "cultural carrying capacity," and it varies from person to person.
Thankfully for the deer family in Donna Jaffe's backyard, the only shots she's taking are photographs chronicling their development as the seasons come and go.
“This year, I've started seeing two grown-up-size deer come in,” she says. “They seem to be together. They seem playful as if they're young. Maybe they're yearlings? Maybe they're last year's spotted fawns? But they seem to be playing together. One time I actually saw the two of them rear up on their hind legs and spar like boxers. It was an amazing thing.”
So, do twin fawns remain playmates after they're all grown up? According to Smith, it depends. He says fawns typically remain together with their mother throughout weaning — two to four months — and they continue to reside with the doe for the first year.
“Where the difference is, is with yearling does and bucks,” says Smith. “Yearling bucks, they will disperse and leave the area and begin establishing their own home range. And this can be up to three to five or more miles from where they were raised. But for yearling does, they will generally stay in the area where they were born, and they can often form family groups.”
Smith adds that while it's most likely that twins would be one buck and one doe, there is a possibility that there could be two doe fawns born together still residing in the same area.
So, it's a potentially storybook ending for our twin fawns, playing together side-by-side in their own little deer herd in Winston-Salem. But the fun is relatively short-lived. Does typically survive in the wild for just three to six years. For bucks, it's two to five.