A pine marten’s distinctive, cream-coloured bib is useful for identifying individuals, and gives a clue as to the animal’s age.
Pine martens have a very dense, rich-chocolate coat with a characteristic pale throat that can be different shades of yellow. This ‘bib’ not only varies in colour but in shape and size too, and helps to identify individuals. The species is about the size of a domestic cat, with shorter legs and a long, bushy tail. The ears are large and rounded; at close quarters, the creamy fur inside them may be visible.
Pine martens are essentially nocturnal mammals – if you see one during the day, it may be having problems getting enough food as sometimes bad weather stops them hunting successfully. In summer, a female with young to feed will also often forage by day (the male plays no part in rearing the kits).
If you’re not lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a pine marten in the flesh, the next best thing is to scour woodland trails and paths for signs of its passing. Pine marten tracks have five toes arched around a four-lobed pad and measure roughly 3.5cm across and 4cm in length. However, note that the species tends to avoid damp areas and it can be difficult to see the tracks clearly in snow as the undersides of its paws are covered in dense fur in winter.
Since pine martens are territorial, their scats are often left in a deliberately exposed place, such as on rocks or at the edges of woodland paths. They vary considerabely in length, from 4cm to 12cm, and when fresh may have a fruity aroma. The droppings are often twisted and can appear grey and hairy – a sign that the animal has been feeding on rodents. But if an individual has been eating insects, berries or scraps put out in gardens, then its droppings will differ.