Photo by Robert J. Reber

May 1, 2019

Quad Tag: Tagging of Quadruplet Fawns

On the evening of 17 May, 1993, I was searching for previously marked deer on Shabbonna Lake Recreation Area in DeKalb County, and also was on the lookout for new fawns to tag. The Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources were collaborating on a Pittman-Robertson funded study of deer ecology in northern Illinois at the time. I was alone on the area as the employees had finished for the day. As I looked west from the park road I observed a large female deer standing with a new born fawn. I immediately grabbed my tagging supplies and ran over to the area where she had been standing before she ran away. I did not expect to capture the fawn because fawns typically follow their mother when they are together.

Imagine my surprise to find four fawns lying together quietly in a circle, almost like petals on a rose. Based on my previous experience tagging fawns, my first thought was that as soon as I grasped the first fawn, the others would flee in all directions. However, I carefully sat down in the middle of the group, took hold of the first fawn, a male, and ear tagged him. I laid him down quietly and he never moved or called out. The other fawns also remained quiet. I continued around the circle tagging each fawn in turn and each remained quiet. Perhaps because the fawns did not call out, the mother did not become aggressive and remained out of sight. There were two males and two females.

All four fawns were seen with their mother in late June, and all appeared none the worse for the tagging experience. One fawn was killed, probably by a predator—likely a fox or coyote—in early July. The remaining fawns survived to the hunting season in October. The mother was killed the first week in October by an archery hunter on the Shabbonna Area. The orphan fawns remained on the area and were seen together several times in the fall. Two of the fawns were subsequently killed by hunters later in the fall. The remaining fawn, a male, joined a large group of deer and spent the winter with them just west of the state park. He was last seen in April 1994 when our field operations on the park concluded. His fate was unknown.

So far as I am aware, this tagging effort was unique for Illinois, and I have been unable to locate a similar report in the deer literature. The birth of quadruplets is uncommon among white-tailed deer but does occur from time-to-time. Frequently one or more of the fawns die early, as was the case with these fawns, so observers report only triplets or twins seen during the summer. Obviously, females must be in peak condition to carry, and then care for, a litter of this size. The mother in this case was large and appeared to be well nourished.

Charlie Nixon is a wildlife ecologist retired from the Illinois Natural History Survey.

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