It's fun to see animals at the park, in the woods or even in your own backyard. But many other animals we don't see might have been visiting as well. We can tell this from the signs they leave behind.
Some animal signs, such as tracks in the snow or mud, are easy to spot. By studying animal tracks, you can answer questions such as: What kind of animal was here? What direction was it headed? Was it moving quickly or just moseying along?
Another obvious animal sign is scat (or poop). By looking at scat, you can determine the kind of animal and maybe even what it had been eating. Some animals, such as raccoons, have community litter areas called latrines. Be careful in handling the scat of any wildlife, especially raccoon, and never examine it without gloves and proper precautions.
Often animal signs include items that are shed or left behind, such as shed antlers, exoskeletons, snake skin, fur and feathers. These kinds of things can be found more easily at certain times of year.
Animal homes or resting spots are another way to tell what kinds of animals have been in the area. Look for little mounds of soil that moles have pushed to the surface from digging underground tunnels. Or search for bird nests or the nests of hornets and paper wasps.
A beaver chew is easy to spot at the base of a large tree. Members of the deer family (cervids) leave signs behind every autumn when they rub their antlers on trees and shrubs.
Many predators, or hunting animals, mark their territories by leaving claw marks on trees.
Sometimes animal signs aren’t as obvious to humans. Every animal leaves a scent trail wherever it goes. Other animals can pick up on these signs because they have better noses (olfactory sensors) than we do. Some signs, such as termite damage, might be hidden from obvious sight.
Whether we know it or not, animals are all around us. Even if we don’t see the animal, we can tell it has been there just by reading the signs.
For some up-close, hands-on learning about animal signs, visit Northwest Trek for a Kids ’n’ Critters over Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 19-21. The event is dedicated to the exploration and discovery of animal signs.
Become an animal-sign detective as you conduct a park-wide search for clues that animals have left behind. Put your sleuthing skills to work in Cheney Family Discovery Center to solve some animal mysteries.
Make crafts that will help you spy all of the clues in our eye-spy boxes. Learn about human evidence and then leave your own mark on the wildlife park.
This month’s article was written by the staff of Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.
To learn more
For more information about animal signs, read these books and visit these websites:
• “Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints” by Millicent E. Selsam
• “The Signs Animals Leave” by Frank Staub