Nature Detective Week

Nature Detective Week

Period: 18-24 January 2021

The winter months are a great time to look for animal and bird tracks. Whether in the snow and frost or in the mud there are lots of signs of the animals that live around us to be found.

Some of the DSC team went out to see what they could find in their local area.

We found prints of rabbits and pheasants (we think) and blackbirds and maybe a wee fox - or it could have been the dog!

Nature Detective Week



Animal Tracking From Prints

When you are out in the park and garden on your daily walk, look carefully in the mud for the different tracks. You may well see a deer hoof or two, and for sure there will be rabbit footprints.

There are many foxes - called urban foxes, living in towns and cities so look carefully around the bin areas for tracks as foxes look for any waste food that might look a bit tasty. Although in the wild foxes would eat meat predominantly, those living in a more urban area will eat leftovers from our household refuse!

If you are going out tracking, it would be good to try to be out in the morning as early as you can as most of these animals are searching for food during the night.

Download the Animal Tracking From Prints (PDF) to help you spot these tracks.

The Woodland Trust also has a good Animal Tracks: Snow Print Identification guide to get you started.

You can also watch this video.

YouTube Video: Animal Tracking from Prints

Sample Animal Tracks Gallery

Can you recognise these tracks? This gallery is part of the Nature Detective Week.

Also see our other Galleries.

Poo Tracking!

One way to track the animals in your area is to look out for poo… yes! Poo!

Whilst we were out looking for tracks, we also spotted some poo!

Do you think this is deer poop of rabbit poop? We could not decide - have a look at the video below and see if you can work it out.

Naturalist John Rhyder explains how to track scat (as animal poo is called) and how it can change through the year! What kind of poo do you think you could find in winter?

Animal Tracking from Scat

You may even be able to work out what an animal has been eating by what you can see in their poo. If a badger has had lots of seeds and berries, you will often see the seeds in the poo for example!

Remember: Not to touch any poo as it holds bacteria and smells pretty bad. Wash your hands if you do!

Now that you’ve had a look at some examples see if you can find and identify the scat in your area! What can you find? If you can wake up early and take a walk just before sunrise, and you might be able to see the animals, too!

Poo Detective Game

If you can’t get out, don’t worry!

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has an online game you can play too!

Don’t forget to turn up the sound when you do this quiz!

Play RSPB Whose Poo Game

RSPB Whose Poo? Game

Bird Poo

Did You Know? - Did you know that bird poo isn’t actually white? The darker stuff inside is actually the bird poo, but the white stuff is uric acid because birds don’t make urine and only have one exit point! That means, they basically pee and poo at the same time!

Watch this video to learn more.

Why Is Bird Poop White?

Don't forget to tell your friends and family this interesting fact next time a bird poops on the car!

Did you know that owl pellets are not poo - the owls actually regurgitate the bones and fur from their supper the night before. They are easy to spot because of the bones that might be visible but remember these are not poo.

You can actually buy owl pellets to dissect at home - how much fun would that be!

How to Dissect An Owl Pellet


Some animals hibernate during the Winter so you are unlikely to find any tracks for them.

Have a go at the BBC Hibernate or Hiber-Not? Quiz to see if you know which animals, birds and insects hibernate and which do not.

Why do you think some animals hibernate in Winter?

The main reason is that during the often wet and cold weather food is much harder to find for these smaller animals and their bodies would struggle to cope with the changes in temperature.

A way of them dealing with this is to hop into a nice cosy bed and sleep the Winter away! How lovely does that sound? Once tucked up in amongst some cosy leaves they will slow their heart rate and breathing and lower their body temperature. They may get up one or twice for a wee but otherwise that’s them till the weather warms up a bit.

There are quite a few wee animals that might be hibernating in your local park or garden. Hedgehogs for instance will be curled up under a woodpile or in the composter under the leaves. Maybe you have a hedgehog house in your garden - take a photo of ours.

Check this one out - it has lots of branches on top to disguise it and also provides some protection.

The doorway is clear to let the wee hedgehog in and out should it wish and there is clean water nearby. They can even go for a wee under the shed when they get up.

If you took the quiz - what animals can you remember will be hibernating?

A hedgehog? A dormouse? A bee? What about a mole?

It is often thought that moles hibernate but in fact they don’t! They just go a wee bit deeper underground to keep warm and they can still find earthworms and grubs to eat.

Look at the size of this molehill we found when out for our daily walk - it is enormous! We wondered how many moles are living in the house under this pile!

The other animal that we are often wondering if they hibernate or not is a squirrel. They don’t hibernate either but they will spend quite a bit of the Winter keeping warm in their drey (that’s a squirrel home). You will see them out and about as they move between their food stores that they have built up before the Winter weather arrives.

Did you build an insect hotel last year? If not see Making Your Own Bee or Insect Hotel (PDF) in Earth Week from last year.

If you did there are likely to be all manner of insects and butterflies hiding out there. What a great support for the insect population in your area by providing them safe shelter for the Winter, and your plants will be very pleased come spring when the wee beasties waken up and eat up all the annoying bugs that destroy the plants and flowers in your garden!

Remember not too disturb any of the animals that might be hibernating. If you have a log pile in your garden or see one in the park don’t be tempted to disturb it - there may be a sleepy hedgehog under there!

Look very carefully in sheds and garage window frames for ladybirds hibernating!

What about snails - do they hibernate and if so how do you think they do this?

Do some research and see what you can find out!

PS - for a clue it involves a lot of slime!

What can you find out about bees? Remember honey bees and bumble bees are quite different and maybe they behave differently during Winter? Let us know what you find out.

Don't forget to enter our competition with any photographs that you take!

Enter Competition

BBC Hibernate or Hiber-Not? Quiz
BBC Hibernate or Hiber-Not? Quiz
Making Your Own Bee or Insect Hotel PDF
Making Your Own Bee or Insect Hotel (PDF)
Hedgehog House (Select To Enlarge)
Huge Molehill
Huge Molehill (Select To Enlarge)
Harlequin ladybird winter aggregate (3014117486)
Harlequin Ladybird Winter Aggregate Select To Enlarge via Wikimedia Commons

Build A Cosy House

How about designing a cosy house for a hedgehog or a dormouse or whichever is your favourite hibernating animal.

What do you think would be the best material? How would you chose where to build your lovely home? Under a bush? In a dark corner of the garden? Under the shed?

Maybe you could build a bat box or a hedgehog house for your garden. They are quite simple to make with odd scraps of wood which you might have in your shed or garage. Always remember to ask a grownup before you start!

If you make it now it will be all settled and smelling of the garden in time for next winter when our little bat friends or prickly hedgehogs are looking for a new home!


Who does not love spotting a wee squirrel in the park or the countryside?

You may even see one in your garden if you live near a wooded area.

Squirrels do like trees to live in and find food from so that’s where you are most likely to catch sight of one.

In parks and gardens in more urban areas you will probably see grey squirrels, whereas in more rural areas and forests you have more chance of seeing a red!

Have you ever seen a squirrel run down a tree head first - why don’t they fall? They have very sharp claws which grip the bark and ensure they have a good grip. They also have a very bushy tail so if they do fall a little it can act as a sort of parachute!

So what is the difference between reds and greys and why are we trying to protect the reds?

The colour of course - but watch out as some greys can have quite a bit of red fur down there backs and on their feet.

Red squirrels have tufts on their ears which get bushier in the winter!

Grey squirrels are quite cheeky and will come into your garden and steal bird food or anything else they can find. Red squirrels are a little more shy and prefer to spend most of their time high up in the tree tops.

Can you find any more squirrel facts?

So why are red squirrels endangered and in need of protection?

The main reason was caused by the arrival of grey squirrels from America many years ago, Greys carry a virus that is dangerous for reds but not affect the health of the greys!

The grey squirrels often eat the acorns when they are green so there are none of the ripe ones left for the red squirrels

When the red squirrels feel under threat or pressure they will not breed so often!

A reduction in suitable woodland and increased road traffic has not helped over the years either!

Where there is woodland on each side of a busy road, some local conservationists have put thick rope between the trees as a sort of bridge so the squirrels can cross to the other side safely!

Returning Red Squirrels to Scottish woodlands - Woodland Trust Scotland

What is being done to help?

There are projects all over the UK to reintroduce red squirrels to areas that are known to be suitable for them and have little or no greys.

Watch this video to see one of these projects here in Scotland.

Some people think that Pine Martens can help.

Pine Martens are carnivores and are known to eat grey squirrels - it is thought it may be because they are bigger and a better food source than the reds.

It has also been found that the reds are much more aware of the Pine Martens and will keep away if they can smell their presence whereas greys are not so careful and are then easy prey for the Pine Martens.

There have been projects where Pine Martens have been introduced to areas to see if they can reduce the greys and encourage the reds. Lots of study and researching to do on this matter but it has worked in some areas in the UK.

See if you can find out any more about Pine Martens and Red Squirrels leaning to live together.

Squirrel (Select To Enlarge) Photograph Credit Catriona Komlosi
Squirrel (Select To Enlarge) Photograph Credit Catriona Komlosi
Squirrel (Select To Enlarge) Photograph Credit Catriona Komlosi
Squirrel (Select To Enlarge) Photograph Credit Catriona Komlosi

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