It is not always possible to see all the wildlife that exists around us, but is possible to come to know these animals, whether they be mammals, birds or reptiles, through the signs that they leave. Animal tracks and faeces leave us clues to their sometimes remote lives. It is not only fun to learn to identify wild animals but doing so allows us to become more aware of the creatures we share this world with. Here are eight tips for identifying animals by their tracks and faeces.
Use all your senses to genuinely interpret your findings. Reading tracks is not always easy due to varying conditions and the age and gender of the animal you are tracking. In many cases you may only be able to make an educated guess as to the track or scat you have found. An animal's tracks can look very different in mud, sand, snow or dust and also changes depending on how old the track is. Front and hind tracks of the same animal are usually different from each other as well. Keep an open mind and an observant mind.
Observe the entire area around what you find, whether it be tracks or scat. Are there other markings in the area? Are there claw or teeth marks on any nearby trees or any fur on the ground? If there is fur or feathers in the scat, you know that the animal is not an herbivore. Gather as many clues as possible that may lead you to discover the animal's story. The more clues, the more certain you can be.
Photograph the track if possible. This is a good way to save your evidence for comparing it to pictures and drawings in guidebooks and references later. If you don't happen to have a camera but have a piece of paper, try sketching it as best you can to aid your memory.
Measure the length and width of the track. Note how many toes or claws it has and how far apart they are. If it is a hoofed animal, does it have a cloven hoof (split hoof) and how much space is in between the sides of the hoof?
Measure the distance between tracks and observe the pattern if there is a whole sequence of them. Having more than one track gives you yet another clue because it can tell you the way the animal walked.
Note the size, contents, colour and formation and number of the faeces if you happen to find these, too. There are references for faeces in guidebooks.
Carry a pocket reference to animal tracks in the region which you are hiking or travelling. This way you can compare on site and deduce from the start whether it might be a feline track or a canine track, for example.
Find out what animals are commonly found in your area if you are not familiar with them. Some species such as deer are nearly impossible to tell just by the track and so whatever species is known to the area is the likely owner of the tracks. There may be much more variety in the wildlife in your area than you realise.