How to identify animal droppings

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Mammals are notoriously difficult to see. Often the only signs of their presence are the droppings left on footpaths, your lawn or your bird table. 

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How to identify wildlife signs

Mammals are notoriously difficult to see, and often the only signs of their presence are the droppings left on footpaths, your lawn or on your bird table.

March is a good time to look for mammal faeces; new vegetation is yet to come through and many species are actively defending their territories.

Identification is often based on smell and/or contents, but either use rubber gloves to handle faeces or small twigs to tease out the contents. Carnivores often use their faeces to mark out their territories, so these are often left in conspicuous places.

DROPPINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

 

Rabbit and hare

  • Rabbits and hares do not ruminate, and their pellets consist of finely chewed fragments of grasses.
  • Rabbit pellets often in ‘latrines’, where the pellets are generally darker.
  • Hare pellets often difficult to tell from rabbit; generally larger (up to 1cm) and more flattened. More often found away from field edges.

Fox

  • Vary depending on what the fox has eaten. Like a small dog dropping, especially in urban areas where they eat a lot of meat, bread and bird seeds.
  • Frequently twisted at one end, especially in rural areas where foxes eat more birds and mammals.
  • When fresh, best distinguished by a very characteristic ‘foxy’ smell.

Water vole and rat

  • Water vole droppings are 8mm–12mm long, rounded at both ends, smooth, found near water, generally at latrine sites. Larger rodents produce similar droppings.
  • Rat droppings are larger than those of water voles, average 12mm long, rough in texture, tapering to a point at one or both ends and frequently deposited in groups.
  • Found in a variety of situations, including near water. 

Badger

  • Faeces can be very variable – soft and even runny when they have been eating worms, or solid and firm, like a large, fat sausage, when eating wheat or fruit.
  • Where badgers are common, these are generally deposited in shallow pits, but are more generally just left on the surface. Easily recognised by sweet, musky smell.

Squirrel

  • Droppings are cylindrical or rounded, up to 8mm in diameter, generally deposited at random but can accumulate at favoured feeding site, such as a bird table.

Otter

  • Spraints left in conspicuous places on rocks in rivers or ledges under bridges.
  • Dark when fresh, pale and crumbly when dry, varying from a small, tarry smear to faeces several centimetres long.
  • Usually contain fish-bones and scales, occasionally feathers or fur.

Deer

  • Deer ruminate, so their food is finely digested and their pellets are generally black and shiny with no obvious contents.
  • Often left in small piles on tracks in woods. Generally separate cylindrical pellets, pointed at one end and indented at the other, but sometimes, especially in summer, a single amorphous lump.
  • Hard to tell species apart. Larger species produce larger pellets (up to 3cm in red deer) but there is considerable overlap between species.

Bats

  • Droppings generally found stuck to walls or on the ground under holes where bats enter buildings, or in piles in roost sites.
  • Hard to tell species apart, but in buildings they are most likely to be one of the pipistrelles.
  • Easily told from mouse droppings by rough appearance due to finely chewed insect fragments. Mouse droppings are similar, but are smoother because they are not composed of insect fragments and not found stuck to walls.

Hedgehog

  • Droppings cylindrical, up to 5cm long, like a small carnivore.
  • Generally dark, no obvious structure when eating worms but generally studded with shiny fragments of insects.

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