Please don't feed the animals. Seriously. Don't feed the animals.

Spring, which made its official appearance early this morning, is a tempting time to sprinkle seed, bread crumbs or other scraps for the birds and cute critters emerging into the warm air and sunshine.

That handful of food is illegal and could endanger wildlife and your pets.

A "big part of why people live here is the love of nature and by extension wild animals," says Mark Hart, spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

That love of nature and its needs must be balanced.

Bird feeders with seed or sugary liquid for hummers are OK if hung high off the ground and if none spills on the ground.

Spillage and seed on the ground can attract bobcats to the buffet of birds gathered. Bobcats are a threat to small dogs and cats.

Likewise coyotes, aptly called "wily," says Hart, will eat just about anything. Inadvertently attracting them near your yard and neighborhood can make dogs and cats a meal for coyotes. Hart says a coyote leaped over a 6-foot fence last year.

Leftover salad scraps attract javelina, which are especially a threat for dogs because a javelina can't tell the difference between a family dog and a coyote, one of their predators, Hart says.

Peccaries, especially when startled, can be aggressive toward people. Javelina wander at night and poke into garbage cans. Hart cautions not to take trash cans out to the street until the morning of pickup.

In the desert food chain, javelina are a prey for mountain lions. By attracting peccaries with scraps, you could be unknowingly inviting mountain lions, too.

Your neighbors may not appreciate the predatory critters in the neighborhood. Game and Fish has noted animals being hit by cars or people trying to kill wildlife when it becomes a nuisance in their area, according to Star archives.

FEEDING Is illegal

State law prohibits feeding and attracting wild animals. Pima is among the Southern Arizona counties that also have laws restricting wildlife feeding. Pima County's law went into effect in 2006 and exempts tree squirrels and birds.

In 2011 a Tucson woman convicted of illegally feeding wildlife was ordered to perform 10 hours of community service and to use raised feeders. Arizona Game and Fish officials had contacted the woman several times over about six years, asking her to stop tossing birdseed on the ground, according to Star archives. After reports of aggressive peccaries in the east-side area, a Game and Fish officer paid a visit, and two javelinas charged the officer. The two animals had to be euthanized.

The fine was suspended in the 2011 case, but the law carries a possible $300 fine.

Urban issue, too

Wildlife woes are not only a rural or outskirts-of-town problem. Coyotes, javelina and other predators are urban dwellers, too.

"People should think of a wash as a wildlife superhighway," Hart says, even one in the middle of town that you might not see. Wildlife love golf courses, too, he says.

In addition to not feeding wildlife, Hart cautions not to handle it either.

Call Game and Fish before handling an animal you think might be in distress.

For example, deer may leave a fawn when feeding and will return, Hart says. It's better to leave the animal where it is found and ask a professional at Game and Fish to assess the situation.

Rattlesnakes and other reptiles are becoming more active as the weather heats up. Most folks easily remember not to handle rattlesnakes, Hart says, and also leave Gila monsters, lizards and other coldblooded critters basking in the sun.

And to clear up a common misconception: If a baby bird falls out of a nest, it's OK to pick it up and put it back. The mother will not reject it, Hart says.

Enjoy the springtime weather and the critters, but feed them only from a raised feeder and don't risk their lives and family pets.

Arizona Daily Star

Call for help, info

To report someone for feeding wildlife or if you need advice on dealing with a wildlife situation, call the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-352-0700.