Those of us who live in areas with a lot of deer are used to seeing them around. But spotting a pregnant deer can be tricky. To determine whether a doe is pregnant, some background knowledge on the breeding season is helpful.
What You'll Learn Today
When Do Deer Get Pregnant?
Deer reproductive cycles mostly depend on the climate. Natural selection has refined the breeding process to ensure that fawns are born in optimal conditions for survival.
In northern areas of the U.S., for example, the breeding season runs from October to January. In the southern states, deer wait until January or February to mate. Most female deer begin to breed when they are at least 1 ½ years old.
White-tailed does are polyestrous. This means that they usually go into heat multiple times during the breeding season. They are also known as short-day breeders, meaning that they begin to breed in the fall when the days are shorter.
The bulk of does go into heat beginning in November, and each heat period lasts for 24 hours. If a doe doesn’t conceive during that time frame, their cycle begins again and they go into heat around 28 days later.
How Long Do Deer Stay Pregnant?
The length of pregnancy depends on the species of deer, but most deer pregnancies last from 180-200 days. White-tailed deer, the most common deer in the U.S., are pregnant for right around 200 days.
Nature times the breeding time and gestation period perfectly to protect vulnerable fawns and support new moms. Since does mostly leave their fawns alone for the first couple of weeks of life, they need good spots to conceal their young.
When the foliage returns in the spring, there’s enough green coverage for fawns to lie undetected until their moms return. The white spots on fawns are also great for camouflage, as they resemble dappled forest sunlight.
Another reason for spring births is the nutrients that are available to the doe at that time of year. A new mom needs lots of extra nutritious plants and vegetation so that she can adequately nurse her baby and nurture her body.
Can You Tell if a Doe is Pregnant?
It can be difficult to tell when a deer is pregnant until she’s farther along. Usually, they won’t start showing until they are well into the third trimester of pregnancy.
You can assume a doe is pregnant when:
- You notice a large bulge in her lower abdomen.
- The doe is cleaning her fur frequently.
- She’s looking around a lot and tends to be on constant high alert.
- There are other pregnant females around. They often travel together while pregnant.
- It’s early spring. It’s a safe bet that most does are pregnant during this time.
Where Do Deer Go to Give Birth?
When it’s finally time to give birth, a doe will find a quiet place with plenty of tall grass and plants to conceal her. This protects her and her babies from predators and gives them time to rest. A doe usually gives birth to two fawns per breeding season.
Here’s what the birth process usually looks like:
1. The doe gets situated
She finds the perfect spot to give birth and lies on her side.
2. She gets into the birthing position
Once the fawn is partially out, the doe stands up. This way, gravity helps the baby slide out more easily.
3. The doe cares for the baby/babies
She immediately gives them their first feeding and cleans her fawns, which erases any traces of the mother’s scent. Being nearly scentless helps protect them from predators when mom leaves them.
4. The female deer moves the fawns
Once the fawns can stand up and everyone has gotten some rest, the doe moves them each to a separate, safe location.
5. The doe leaves to find food
Fawns can’t keep up with their mother during the first week or two after birth, so they stay behind while mom forages. She will return to nurse them a few times per day as long as the coast is clear.
Deer are very secretive creatures and will only give birth where they feel secure. Every so often, humans get lucky enough to witness this amazing event. Check out this video below to watch what one Youtuber witnessed when a doe chose her property to give birth.
For more articles about deer, check out this about deer and shedding antlers.