PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — Spring and summer mean baby animals! Little fawns or baby bunnies are adorable, but what should you do if you find one outside?

The Pennsylvania Game Commission says usually the best thing to do is leave that young wildlife alone.

Although baby deer, birds, raccoons, or other animals may look like they have been abandoned, they usually haven’t been, the Game Commission says. Adult animals often leave their young to look for food, but they stay nearby and will return for their babies.

Some animals use a defensive tactic called the “hider strategy,” the commission says, in which young animals remain very still to “hide” in surrounding cover while their parents are away, possibly trying to draw potential predators’ attention away from the young animals. Deer use this strategy, for example. But just because the animal isn’t moving doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

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The Game Commission urges people not to interfere or interact with young wildlife. Contact between animals and people poses risks to both parties.

For example, when people interact with animals or remove them from their natural settings, the animals can lose their natural fear of humans, which makes it hard or even impossible for them to survive in the wild, the commission explains. Wildlife habituated to humans can also pose a public safety risk. Conversely, people can contract diseases or parasites from handling wild animals.

Sometimes, young animals may need help, though. The Humane Society of the United States says signs an animal may need help include:

  • It’s brought to you by a cat or dog
  • It’s bleeding
  • It has an obvious broken limb
  • It’s shivering
  • It’s crying and wandering all day long
  • There is a dead parent nearby
  • For birds — it’s featherless or nearly featherless and on the ground

If you think a baby animal needs help, you should contact a local wildlife rehabilitator, veterinarian, zoo, humane society, or regional Game Commission office, and they can provide more instruction.

The Humane Society says that while you wait for help to arrive, you should not give the animal food or water — it could choke them, trigger digestive problems, give them pneumonia, or even kill an animal that is in shock.

The Humane Society says if you are able (and if you are told by an expert that it is OK), you can put on thick gloves and use a towel or pillowcase to pick up the animal and put it into a container that has air holes and is lined with a soft cloth material like an old T-shirt. Then you should put the container in a warm, dark, quiet place until it can be transported somewhere for help. Make sure to keep your voice and other sounds to a minimum so you don’t stress the animal further, the Humane Society says.

People should not try to care for wild animals themselves, an article on the National Wildlife Federation website says. Caring for wildlife requires special training and lots of attention. In fact, the Game Commission reminds Pennsylvanians that it is illegal to take or possess animals from the wild, and penalties for violations can involve fines of up to $1,500 per animal.

Here’s what you can do and what to look for if you find certain young animals that look like they may need help:

What to do if you find a baby rabbit

Adult rabbits feed their young at dawn and dusk but stay away from their babies during the day to avoid attracting predators, the Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh explains. If you see a young rabbit alone, it’s probably just waiting for mom to return, but you can check that it hasn’t been abandoned by sprinkling flour in a circle around its nest in the afternoon and checking back to see if it gets disturbed by the parent.

What to do if you find a baby squirrel

Squirrels nest in trees. If you find a young squirrel that has fallen from its nest, its parents may still be nearby, but it might take them a while to find the baby, the Pittsburgh animal rescue says. You can help a baby squirrel reunite with its mother by putting it in a box as close to the base of the tree it fell from as possible, then going inside and waiting. If mom hasn’t come to get the baby from the box after at least five hours, the animal rescue says you can bring the box inside to keep the animal safe and call a wildlife expert for help.

What to do if you find a baby bird

Many adolescent birds’ parents will continue caring for them for a short time after they’ve left the nest, the Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh says. “Teenage birds,” called fledglings, may not be able to fly yet, but that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with them. They are often found hiding from predators in yards or bushes, the animal rescue explains.

Fledglings are fully feathered, a National Wildlife Federation post explains, while “nestlings” — birds that should still be in their nests — tend to be featherless or covered in fluffy down.

If you find a fledgling that is in an unsafe location, you can move it to a nearby cover — but don’t move it too far or its parents may not be able to find it, the Pittsburgh animal rescue advises.

If you find a nestling outside of its nest, you can try to put it back into the nest if it isn’t injured. If the nest is too high to reach, you can put the baby into a basket or bowl with some dry substrate or materials, then put the container as close to the bird’s nest as possible. It has to be placed at the tree where its nest is located, the rescue notes.

Birds won’t reject a baby just because it has been handled by a human, the animal rescue says, although they may make a fuss when you try to return their babies because they’re being protective. After putting a young bird in a safe place, you should go inside and watch for its parents to return. If its parents do not return, contact a wildlife expert for advice.

An exception to some of this is ducks, the NWF article explains. Ducks leave their nests shortly after hatching and shouldn’t be returned to them. If you find a baby duck all alone, you should contact a wildlife expert.

What to do if you find a fawn

Adult deer often leave their young for hours at a time while they forage for food, the Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh explains, and a fawn will stay bedded down in one place the entire time its parents are away. If the fawn isn’t in a dangerous place, it can simply be left alone. If it has flies on its hind, or if it is wandering and crying, it may need help, and you should contact an expert for assistance.

What to do if you find baby reptiles

Reptiles like snakes, turtles, and lizards are ready to be independent from the get-go, so if you find them outside and they look healthy, you can simply leave them alone, a National Wildlife Federation article says. If you find a nest of eggs, don’t move them because it could kill the embryos if not done properly. Instead, you should leave them where they are or contact an expert to help relocate them.

If you encounter a turtle trying to cross the road, you can help it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says one of the best ways to help is to simply (and safely) stand guard while the turtle crosses the street. If it’s not interested in moving on its own, you can slide something like a car mat under it and slide it across the roadway, or if you are confident it won’t bite you, you can gently pick it up by the shell to move it. When moving a turtle across the road, always move it in the direction it was traveling.

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