We’d been away for almost a week and had returned home on a day of rain and wind. After turning on the water and putting away the groceries we’d picked up on the way, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a dead fawn lying in the yard.
The little body was soaked from the rain and in rigor mortis; the fawn couldn’t have been dead for more than 24-36 hours and probably less. There wasn’t a mark visible on the fawn so the cause of death wasn’t readily apparent. Due to the cool damp weather, pneumonia or hypothermia were possibilities; the forests here are significantly overbrowsed, malnourished does often can’t produce enough milk for twin fawns and one starves; and there’s always the chance of a congenital defect, disease or parasites.
Whatever the cause of the fawn’s death, there was the body to deal with; so I took it up the hill and left it in the woods. As in the case of the dead bear (see earlier posts here and here) I decided to mount a camera trap to discern the fate of the fawn's body –
The first night a doe appeared not long after I’d moved the body and stayed for many hours –
The old doe wasn’t alone, her yearling and a new fawn, as well as another doe accompanied her in examining the body. As can be seen in the photos, she repeatedly licked the fawn’s body as she would a live newborn - instinct or emotion?
The next morning (day 2), when I went to check the camera and see if a bear or coyote had fed on the fawn, the doe was nearby and obviously reluctant to leave. She let me get well within 50 feet and gradually circled behind me until I turned to head back to the house.
Although my camera traps near the house have repeatedly gotten photos of black bear and one took down our bird feeder the same night I moved the fawn’s body (the first time that’s happened this year, now the feeder will stay down until fall) it didn’t feed on the fawn. Nor did the coyotes or red and gray foxes that have frequently been around the house.
Two days later (day 3) the fawn had been moved about 20 feet and the last photos taken before the fawn was moved showed a gray fox feeding on the body, but not dragging it off –
So, how was the body moved? Presumably the fox had done it, but the camera had no photos of the process. I put the dead fawn back in front of the camera trap.
The next time I checked the camera trap the body was gone again, but one photo showed the old doe and her other fawn –
When I located the fawn’s body again much of the flesh had been eaten and I moved the camera to that position. The old doe appeared in photographs at next check of the camera (on day 5).
Most people do not realize that white-tailed deer occasionally eat meat, even catching fledgling birds and small mammals as well as feeding on carrion from larger animals. Several of the camera trap photos show the old doe with parts of the fawn in her mouth. Unfortunately, the camera’s lens was fogged on the cool damp evening so the photos leave much to be desired.
The last several photos, taken quite a bit later that night, appear to show the doe dragging the carcass and in the last one, although most of the scene was blocked by the doe's body, the fawn’s remains seem to have been moved beyond the cameras view.
The fawn's carcass couldn't be found again (perhaps it was in the nearby large patches of dense hay-scented fern or other dense cover) so there are no more photos. But it appears the question of how the fawn’s body was repeatedly moved has been answered.