Backyard babies

three baby foxes huddled together in some brush


pring is the time for new life. Leaf buds on trees, green shoots pushing through the last vestiges of snow and wildlife bearing its young. If you happen upon some small creatures in your backyard, or on a walk through a park, Animal Control Officer Mary Blair at South Hills Cooperative Animal Control has some tips on the best way to coexist.

Fear of humans is important for animal survival.  Most animals frighten easily if you make loud noises. Keep your pets on a leash, in fenced areas, or covered kennels. Use yard lighting and motion detectors to discourage unwanted visitors. Don’t encourage wild animals to visit; keep your trash sealed, clean up fallen fruit and bird seed. Do not approach animals that appear sick, injured, or even dead. If you encounter an injured or dead animal, call 911.


The chances of coming across a fox den in your backyard is pretty small, Blair said. “They’re not going to be having their babies near houses,” she said. “They prefer little dens in secluded areas. Moms can get pretty defensive around their babies, so the best advice is to leave ‘em alone.”


Squirrels make their nests in trees, or anything hollow enough to accommodate them.

“Unfortunately, that can sometimes be your house,” Blair said. If you find some uninvited houseguests, Animal Control can remove them, and when they do, call a contractor to seal the opening, “because if you don’t, something else will move in,” said Blair.

If you see a baby squirrel on the ground, and they appear to be injured, or fallen from the nest, “If you know where the nest is, you can try to put it back, but the best case scenario would be to take it to a local wildlife center,” Blair said. Also, anytime you handle wildlife, make sure to wear gloves. “You don’t want to be touching wild animals without protection.”

a baby fawn with the mother deer in a field

a spotted baby fawn laying low in the grassDeer

“Fawns honestly look dead when you see them,” said Blair, “but it’s completely normal for them to be without their mom for a long time. Mom disappears, goes off and forages, it could be the entire day, then she comes back at nighttime to feed them.”

So if your yard is home to one or two “abandoned” fawns, Blair once again says “Leave ‘em alone. Most animals don’t abandon their babies.”

a baby possum hanging on a tree branch looking downPossums

“Possums in general are super cool!” said Blair. “Incidence of rabies is very rare, and they eat ticks and pretty much anything you don’t want in your yard, like snakes and small rodents.”

The only marsupial in North America, possums give birth to tiny, pea-sized babies that will further develop inside the mother’s pouch. Litters can be as large as 20, but Blair says only about eight of them will survive.

“When they get nice and fuzzy, and come out of the pouch, Mom will hold onto them on her back and just walk around with them.”

The “leave ‘em alone” edict is particularly strong when encountering possums.

“Their first instinct is that they don’t want to come near you—they want you to get away from them. Literally, their last resort is coming toward you.

“They’ll try every avenue. Playing dead is like they’re saying ‘hey, I’m not appetizing because I’m dead and have been here awhile.’”


“Rabbits reproduce ridiculously quickly,” Blair said with a smile. A gestation period of just over a month, and up to 10 babies in a litter makes for lots of little cottontails. Rabbits like to nest in the ground, and their nests can be pretty hard to find.

“The nests are really hard to see,” said Blair. Just a little hole in the ground, maybe with some fur, because the mom will put down some of her own fur to make the nest nice and warm,” she said. “When you’re out mowing your lawn, walking your dog, whatever, check your yard.”

Like deer, mother rabbits can be gone for a long time to eat enough to feed the babies. Once the babies are launched, they’re pretty hungry, and will help themselves to whatever your garden has to offer. Blair suggests rabbit proofing by fencing it in, burying the bottom of the fence and bending it into a shape like an L, so that the bottom part of the L splays out and away from the garden. “The bottom of the L is sitting on the ground with nothing underneath it.”

a baby racoon leaning on a tree branchRaccoons

Raccoons tend to roost pretty high above ground. “We get a lot of calls about babies in the knots of trees,” Blair said. “When they get a little older, they get bolder and want to climb out of the nest.”

If you come across an adventurous baby, keep your dogs inside and don’t let your kids get near the raccoons. Just want to keep them safe until Mom gets back.”

Mom’s out looking for food. Yes, in the daylight. No, she’s most likely not rabid. She has mouths to feed.

a robin chick with its beak open begging for foodBirds

Baby birds are mostly confined to nests.

“If you see one on the ground, it’s really a question of whether or not they have adult feathers; if they have tail feathers, and bigger, thicker feathers, they probably got shoved out to grow up, or maybe they’re practicing flying.”

Babies have fluffy soft feathers. If you come across a baby bird on the ground, and you know where the nest is, glove up and try to put it back.

If you have an animal issue, call 911 or the non-emergency number, 412-279-6911. The same call-takers answer both lines and take messages after normal business hours, which are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 7 to 3 on weekends. If your after-hours call is urgent, dispatchers will send police.

“If you have questions, by all means call Animal Control,” said Blair. “We have no problem answering questions, checking in on them—and it’s always cool when we’re able to see babies!”


Photos by Rich Zahren