Animal Tracks and Other Wildlife Signs
(Page 2 of 4)
Similarly, an indication of the Snowshoe Hare population in the Northeast is the abundance of high-bush blueberry. Other animals can be roughly quantified the same way, although you need to take into consideration your region and what the animal eats. This is trickier with an animal like the black bear, since it is omnivorous and will shift its eating habits depending on the abundance of certain plants throughout the year.
To be sure the suspected species is doing the munching, try this tip. Look closely at exactly how the plant is grazed, particularly if you think deer are the likely culprits. They don’t have upper incisors, only lower ones, so when deer browse, they leave a ragged edge, a rough snip, almost as if the shrub or sprout was broken off rather than clipped. With hare, woodchuck and other rodents, having both sets of incisors means the clipping will be clean, almost like a cut with pruning shears at about a 45-degree angle.
Keep this in mind when trying to determine what pesky animal is making off with all of the harvest in your garden, too.
While you might not want to discuss it over dinner, scat – excrement left behind by animals – is one of the more important wildlife signs. Its size, shape and consistency can tell you an incredible amount.
The most obvious thing scat tells you is what the animal has been eating, and that’s incredibly useful with herbivores. You can identify the main food source in your region by looking at scat. During summer months, herbivores consume soft vegetation, but in the fall they shift to more nuts, seeds and fruit, then woody shrubs and sprouts in winter. The hardness of their droppings follows this pattern. For shape distinction, see “Deciphering Scat” below.
Naturally, animals defecate in areas where they feel comfortable, so if scat is found in the forest, a den or a similar rest area may be nearby.
Along game trails – a path worn down by wildlife, which serves as the super highway of the woods – is another good place to look, especially when it comes to wolves and, particularly, coyotes and foxes. The
intersection of game trails is a heavy-traffic area, much like the junction of a brook and the pond or other water body it empties into (for beavers and otters), so animals will not only leave scat at these places, they will make scratches and scrapes and leave scent from both their paws and anal glands.