How to identify animal droppings

Droppings or scats can tell us a lot about which animals have been visiting our gardens, parks and countryside, including hedgehogs, foxes and badgers.

Red fox standing in the garden with flowers near the house in a suburb of London. © DG Wildlife/Getty

Droppings are usually left along territorial boundaries, on prominent features of the landscape or next to discarded prey such as a plucked pigeon, but you can also find them right in the middle of a path, clearing or field. Regularly used poop spots are known as latrines.

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While mammal poo is relatively easy to identify, the droppings of different birds often look the same – white splodges containing a paste of waste products. But those of a few species, including the three illustrated here, are more distinctive.

A careful eye, a guarded sniff and (sometimes) a careful inspection using disposable gloves can often reveal the species responsible for the droppings.

All illustrations by Mike Langman

Identifying mammal droppings

Hedgehog poo

Hedgehog poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 1.5–5cm

Hedgehog poo is sausage-like in shape, like that of a small carnivore. It is usually shiny and squidgy, and may be tapered at one end. Normally black in colour, hedgehog droppings may contain berry pips and shiny fragments from insect body parts.

Look out for hedgehog poo on garden lawns and school fields.

Badger poo

Badget poo. © Mike Langman

Size: varies

Badger poo is normally sloppy and wet. However, the texture of the droppings depends on its diet, which can include worms, berries and carrion. Badgers usually defecate in latrines or holes at the edge of their territories.

Smell is a good indicator – you can usually recognise badger poo from its sweet, musky smell.

Fox poo

Fox poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 5-20cm

Fox poo is usually long and twisted, and if you look closely, you might be able to spot the remains of what it’s been eating – such as berries, bone, hair, and grasses. Fox droppings are often left to mark territory on dead animals, shoes and garden toys.

In urban areas (where they eat a lot of meat, bread and bird seeds), fox scat tends to look like a small dog dropping, while in rural areas (where they eat more birds and mammals), fox poo is usually twisted at one end.

When fox poo is fresh, it’s best distinguished by a very characteristic ‘foxy’ smell.

Otter poo

Otter spraint. © Mike Langman

Size: 3-10cm

Known as spraint, otter droppings are normally coarse and black, full of fish scales, shell fragments, fish and crayfish parts, and sometimes feathers or fur. As otter poo dries out, it becomes pale and crumbly. Otter spraint may also just be oil deposited to mark a territory.

Whether or not it contains poo, otter spraint has a unique smell – some people describe it as a very musky and fishy smell, with a sweet taint surprisingly similar to jasmine tea.

Look for otter spraint in prominent spots along a stream, lake or river, such as grass mounds or rocks.

Rat poo

Rat droppings. © Mike Langman

Size: 1.7–2cm

Rat droppings are large and oval-shaped, like olive stones. When fresh, rat droppings are dark in colour, rough in texture, and tapering to a point at one or both ends.

They’re often deposited in a scattered group.

Rabbit poo

Rabbit poo. © Mike Langman

Size: Less than 1cm

Rabbit poo is very small – only pea-sized – and is usually black, light-brown or green in colour. It is filled with plant and grass pieces. Look out for rabbit droppings scattered at latrines, which are often near burrow entrances.

Brown hare poo

Hare poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 1.2–1.5cm

Hare droppings are like rabbit droppings but larger, flattened and more fibrous, containing larger bits of plants. They are usually quite sweet-smelling and can be found in hare scrapes. They’re also more likely to be found away from field edges.

Did you know that hares and rabbits eat their own droppings? 

All lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) eat their droppings as soon as they pass. This is known as refection, and it allows the animals to extract extra value from their plant food. 

Grass is incredibly hard to digest because of its high cellulose content. Unlike cows and other ruminants, lagomorphs cannot chew the cud. 

Instead, they excrete soft green pellets known as cecotropes, which they eat – giving them the chance to metabolise their food again and get some extra nutrients. 

Find out more in our wildlife Q&A with naturalist Polly Pullar.

Brown hare in Norfolk. © Mike Powles/Getty

Roe deer poo

Roe deer poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 1–1.4cm

Roe deer poo is relatively small, and usually shiny and brown. Deer ruminate so their droppings don’t normally have any obvious contents as their food is finely digested.

The droppings are oval-shaped, with one end pointed and the other end indented or flat. They are usually in clusters, and can be found along paths, or in fields and woodlands.

Pine marten poo

Pine martin poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 4–12cm

Pine marten poo is long, thin, coiled and tapered in shape, and full of fur, bone, feathers, pieces of leaves and grass. When defecating, martens wriggle their hips, resulting in twisted poo. In summer, the scat can actually become blue in colour as bilberries can make up to 30 per cent of a pine marten’s diet during this season.

Like otter spraint, pine marten poo has a distinctive smell, though it lacks the fishy smell of spraint. It is very musky, sweet and fruity, and does not smell unpleasant – it is sometimes compared to damp hay or parma violets. The scent is one of the key factors for distinguishing the scat from fox poo (however if a fox has been feeding on a lot of berries, it may also smell quite sweet).

Look out for pine marten scat at regular latrines, such as a log or boulder. Also note that you’re extremely unlikely to see pine marten poo anywhere but Scotland in the UK.

Identifying bird poo

Pheasant poo

Pheasant poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 2cm

Thick, tubular – one big mass, like soft-serve ice cream; grey-green, coated in white (uric acid). Grouped.

Canada goose poo

Canada goose poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 8cm

Thick, cylindrical, coiled, with an outer layer of white uric acid; digested grass. Grass and paths near rivers and ponds.

Green woodpecker poo

Green woodpecker poo. © Mike Langman

Size: 3–5cm

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Short, thin, cylindrical, looks like cigarette ash; dark with coat of white uric acid. Ant exoskeletons. Lawns.