Did This Doe Have Six Fawns?

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QDMA member Shawn Koontz of Pennsylvania captured some phenomenal trail-camera photos on July 13, and he asked me about them. The photos show an adult doe in the company of six fawns (one of them is difficult to see but is standing behind the doe). Did this doe give birth to six fawns?

Given the rarity of triplet fawns, I’m guessing only two (and at most three) of these fawns belong to this doe. Though as many as four fetuses have been found in road-killed or hunter-harvested does, QDMA is not aware of any documented case of a wild doe giving birth to four or more surviving fawns. So, some of the fawns likely belong to does that are nearby but not in the camera frame. It’s also possible that some of these fawns belong to a doe that has roamed some distance ahead or was killed by a car, a predator, or some other factor. Whitetail does have been known to “babysit” the fawns of another doe, and in rare cases does have been known to actually “foster” orphaned fawns, even nursing them. This doesn’t happen often because not every doe will accept strange fawns.

If this doe is babysitting or fostering fawns, she may be a candidate for “Mother of the Year!” Thanks for Shawn Koontz for sharing these great photos, and hopefully Shawn can keep tabs on this doe throughout the summer and provide us with an update.

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  • Julian

    Just spotted a doe in our back yard with 5 fawns. No other deer around anywhere, and these fawns were clearly following her. Two of the fawns looked to be slightly larger than the other 3, so my guess is she has adopted triplets from another doe….never seen this before.

  • rational_atheist

    As you know, females return to the same areas of the summer range year after year, bringing their fawns with them. So, females learn their “home range” from their mother and pass it on to their daughters. As a consequence, females are more closely related to each other the smaller the circle you subscribe around them. A female rears her fawns in an area that contains her sisters and their fawns and her cousins and their fawns. Under these conditions, some incidence of communal rearing is to be expected since proximal females are likely to share good portions of their genomes.


About Kip Adams

Kip Adams of Knoxville, Pennsylvania, is a certified wildlife biologist and QDMA's Director of Conservation. He has a bachelor's degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University and a master's in wildlife from the University of New Hampshire. He's also a certified taxidermist. Before joining QDMA, Kip was the deer and bear biologist for the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department. Kip and his wife Amy have a daughter, Katie, and a son, Bo.