How to Tell If a Fawn Needs Help — The Five Cs

Fawn being fed at WildCare. Photo by Alison Hermance*** If you see a fawn you suspect may need help, please call WildCare’s Hotline at 415-456-7283 immediately.***

*** Please do NOT leave a comment here if you need urgent assistance! These articles are not monitored in real time. ***

Every spring WildCare admits a number of animals, usually fawns and baby jackrabbits, that HAVE been “kidnapped” by well-meaning people who found them alone and assumed they needed help. In fact, one in five of the fawns brought to WildCare in 2017 were healthy and were promptly returned to their mothers.

While every wildlife rescue is done for the most benevolent of reasons, “kidnapping” a healthy baby can have far-reaching impacts on the health of both mom and baby.

How do you know if a wild animal needs your help? The Five Cs!

Healthy fawn in the grass. Photo by Susan SassoThe first things to look for if you think a wild animal of any age needs rescue are the Five Cs. If an animal demonstrates any of these five symptoms, it is an emergency and he needs immediate help:

1. Is he Crying?

2. Is he Cold?

3. Is he Coming toward you (approaching people)?

4. Is he Covered with blood or insects?

5. Has he been Caught by a cat or a dog?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, immediately call WildCare’s 24-hour Emergency Hotline at 415-456-7283 for assistance and advice.

However, especially in the case of fawns, not seeing any of the Five Cs may indicate the animal does not actually need to be rescued! A fawn’s primary defense mechanism is to stay completely still and quiet, nestled into whatever spot his mother placed him while she went off to forage. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness. But it isn’t. A still, quiet fawn is a healthy fawn.

Mother deer know that their presence near their babies alerts predators to the fawns’ existence, which puts them at risk. In order to keep her young safe, a doe will leave her fawn in a secluded area, often for as long as 12 hours, distracting predators away from her baby while she forages for food.

Fawns’ camouflage and their ability to stay still keep them safe from predators while their mother is away. When approached by a perceived predator (humans, pets or wildlife) a fawn’s instinctual response is to lay very low and not move at all. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness, but in fact it is healthy behavior for a fawn.

You should be worried if you see a fawn acting contrary to this normal behavior. If a fawn is up and walking around by himself, or is crying, call WildCare immediately at 415-456-SAVE (7283).

Doe and fawn. Photo by Alison HermanceWhat does a crying fawn sound like?

Click for a recording of the heart-rending call a fawn makes when he’s upset.

This recording is useful for more than tugging at the heartstrings! It has a very specific purpose— to assist WildCare in reuniting healthy “kidnapped” fawns with their mothers.

If a mother deer is nearby and hears her baby crying, she will usually come running. But, as you know, a healthy fawn knows his best self-defense is to stay still and quiet.

So a fawn being carried by Wildlife Hospital volunteers back to where he was found figures he’d best stay as quiet as possible until the predators (us!) go away. When attempting the reunite, the recorder playing the cry is left near the fawn while the people step away to observe from a distance. It is a very effective tool that will often bring the mother deer quickly.

Fortunately, it is a complete myth that a mother wild animal won’t accept her baby if he has human scent on him (it’s not true about birds either!), so a mother deer attracted by crying calls will immediately take her baby back and lead him to a safer spot.

Fawn on the front porch. Photo by Sherry Antonoff
This photo of a fawn tucked onto a back porch was sent to WildCare by the homeowner. Does this fawn need help? Photo by Sherry Antonoff

WildCare receives dozens of calls a week during fawn season from concerned people who find the little animals in their yards. With every caller, our Hotline Operators run through  the Five Cs. If the answer to any question is yes, they usually ask the caller to bring the fawn to WildCare.

In the past two years, WildCare and the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) have teamed up in a joint public awareness campaign to keep baby animals from being kidnapped this spring, but also to make sure babies in need actually get the care they need.

MMWD commissioned a wonderful poster to be distributed and hung in multiple locations informing people of the Five Cs and the need to make sure a fawn really needs help before touching him. Click for the poster.

Take the Five Cs Quiz!

The Five Cs are very obvious symptoms that indicate an animal needs help. But sometimes it’s not as clear whether your intervention would be in the animal’s best interest.

Take a look at some actual scenarios from WildCare’s records and see how you would respond:

Scenario 1: A tiny fawn appears one morning on your front porch. She’s sitting completely still and isn’t making a sound. The baby isn’t very well hidden, and there’s no sign of the mother deer. Does she need help?

Answer: No! That baby is fine and does not need rescue. Deer, like Jackrabbits, will leave their young alone for up to twelve hours at a time while they forage. The babies know to stay still and quiet, tucked into the grass where their mother left them. Sometimes the mother deer makes a poor choice as to where her baby should spend the daylight hours, but she is probably nearby, and worried that a predator (you!) has discovered her fawn. Leave the fawn alone by removing yourself completely from the scene and eventually Mom will come back to retrieve her baby.

Fluffy baby finches. Photo by Melanie Piazza
Fluffy baby birds like these cannot control their own body temperature, so they get cold fast if they fall from the nest. Photo by Melanie Piazza

Scenario 2: Last night’s wind left a lot of debris in the park where you walk your dog. Your foot dislodges a leaf and underneath you find a small fluff-covered bird. He’s alive, but his little belly is cool to the touch. Does he need help?

Answer: Yes! That baby definitely needs to come to WildCare. If a baby is cool or cold, he’s in trouble and needs help immediately.

Scenario 3: The mockingbird hops around the yard with little trouble, but no matter how long you watch him, he doesn’t attempt to fly. There are other birds around, but you’re worried about neighborhood cats. Does he need help?

Answer: No! That baby is a fledgling, and hopping around without flying is an important part of his maturation process. A fledgling songbird will look like an adult bird, except his tail feathers will be shorter (stubby-looking) and he may have a little baby fluff still on his head. While neighborhood cats are a real hazard to birds of all ages (WildCare encourages cat owners to keep their pets indoors, especially during wildlife baby season), a fledgling bird’s parents are on the alert for dangers, and they are actively directing their young one to safety.

They will also continue to feed him. Give fledglings their best chance at success by keeping people and pets away from them during this important part of their development.

How did you do with these scenarios? For more extensive information to help you determine if a wild animal needs rescue, click to read our Wildlife Rescue Guide!


Fawn at WildCare. Photo by Melanie PiazzaWildCare’s fawn patients need your help!

Donate today to help us raise our orphaned fawns! These babies will be in care for FOUR months or more!

It costs money every day to raise these wobbly-legged orphans to be healthy adult deer, ready to return to the wild.

Your monthly donation of any amount makes long-term care like this possible!

Click here to help us care for our orphaned fawns with a MATCHED monthly donation!

*** If you see a fawn you suspect may need help, please call WildCare’s Hotline at 415-456-7283 immediately.***

*** Please do NOT leave a comment here if you need urgent assistance! These articles are not monitored in real time. ***

Please call WildCare’s Hotline immediately at 415-456-7283 if you see a fawn or another wild animal in need of help.

This entry was posted in Wildlife Patient Stories by Alison Hermance.

11 Responses to “How to Tell If a Fawn Needs Help — The Five Cs”

  1. Steve Elliott

    We once rescued a fawn whose mother was killed by a neighbor dog. The poor thing was trying to nurse. Couldn’t tell if she was cold. She was crying, but ran away when we tried to catch her. Finally we did, brought her in to Wildcare. Always wondered how she fared.

    • Alison Hermance

      Hi Steve,
      If you can tell me when the fawn came in, I can research her case! I didn’t find anything under your name in our database, but I’m happy to look further with additional info. Alison

  2. Griff

    This is very helpful, thanks! I am going to use your info in a video I am making and link back to you. Thanks for all your awesome efforts for wildlife.

  3. Martha

    I spooked a fawn this morning, not knowing it was there. It ran off very quickly. It still had its spots. No mother in site. Will it live? Can it’s mother find it ? I’m heart broken. I have prayed! I I saw it run like the wind. I’m so sad.

    • Alison Hermance

      Hi Martha,
      This does happen occasionally, and usually mother and fawn find each other with little problem. Keep your eyes open for the fawn, however, and if you see him walking around and/or crying, he does need help. Call WildCare for help if you find him 415-456-7283.

  4. Heather

    Hello, I saw a very small Fawn walking around, crossing the road and crying. My boyfriend said it was normal but then I saw this page, I know his general location but I saw him 12 hours ago, what do I do? He also seemed interested in walking up to me. I am extremely worried for this animal:(

    • Alison Hermance

      A fawn that is walking around and approaching people is generally in trouble. If you’re located in the San Francisco Bay Area, however, the heat wave may cause animals to act in unusual ways. We’re having a number of animals being admitted after leaving their nests/dens due to the heat. Do a search around your neighborhood and if you spot the fawn lying down and sitting still, he’s likely fine and is waiting for mom to come back. If he’s still acting distressed, call us at 415-456-7283. If you’re not in Marin County, CA, check out our list of other wildlife resources at This forum is normally only moderated during business hours, so please call the Hotline 415-456-7283 with additional questions.

  5. Savanna

    A fawn approached me and it was crying. Do I just leave it or what should I do??? I never seen a mommy in sight an I even hid and she never showed up.

    • Alison Hermance

      Apologies for the delayed response, these comments aren’t monitored over the weekend. A fawn coming up to people may be in trouble. Please call our Hotline 415-456-7283 if you see him again– as you know from the article, if a fawn is crying and coming toward people, he likely needs help. Note that mother deer may leave their fawns for as long as 12 hours while they forage. They also know that the best way to alert a predator to the presence of their fawn is to be visible nearby, so they make a point to not be seen. If a fawn is sitting quietly, we ask people to completely leave the area for several hours to give mom time to come back.

  6. Marguerite Harris

    We watched a momma and baby cross a creek. Living on the creek we knew it was to strong of a current. The baby didn’t make it across but managed to go back and get out down stream. Mom continued on. Will she return to look for her baby?

    • Alison Hermance

      Deer are very good moms, so there’s every reason to expect that she will return. The fawn will likely hunker down nearby and wait for her to come back. If possible, however, please keep an eye out for the fawn. If it’s a loud stream, it’s possible the mother deer may not hear her baby calling, so they may not successfully reunite. If that happens, the little one will need help. Please call our hotline 415-456-7283 if you find him up and walking around and/or calling.


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