Outdoor Action

How to be a Wildlife Detective

A molehill
A molehill

It is fun to go out and look at the wildlife that is around us, but this can be a difficult thing to do. Animals, birds, insects, fish and other living things are afraid of predators. They will always run, fly, swim or hide away. They may also remain very still and camouflaged against their background.

We must become wildlife detectives and hunt for the clues that living things leave behind them. Then we will know what lives in or visits a particular environment.

Sand Lizard Footprints
Sand Lizard Footprints

Before you go on your hunt for wildlife clues, you need to get ready.

The equipment you will need

  • Wellington boots (in case it’s muddy)
  • Warm clothes and a waterproof (in case of cold or rain)
  • A sun hat (in case it is a hot day)
  • A camera
  • Hedgehog Skin
    Hedgehog Skin
  • Collecting bag or box
  • A notebook and pencil
  • A grown up to take you out, if you are very young.
Robin's Pin cushion
Robin's Pin Cushion

How to detect your wildlife

  • Use your ears.
    Stand or sit very still. Listen to the noises that are around you. You may hear birds singing, insects buzzing, animals running secretly through the undergrowth or fish breaking the surface of water.
    Write down the sounds that you hear and think about what makes them.
  • Use your nose.
    All mammals have a smell. You might notice these in a sheltered or enclosed space. Many plants growing in one place will give off a strong perfume. Dead things that are decomposing will smell quite unpleasant!
    Follow your nose…
  • Use your eyes

You will find many things by looking. Here are some of them:

  • Rabbit hole
    Rabbit hole
    Shelters: All living things need shelter from predators and the weather.
    See if you can find holes and mounds in the earth, mud or sand.
  • Nests in trees, bushes or on the ground. Webs and cocoons.
  • Galls on trees and bushes.
  • Shells on the shoreline.

Food: Some living things don’t clear their plates properly! Look out for nibbled plants, fir cones and the bark on trees. The feathers and bones of a bird may be discarded by a predator. Pellets may be coughed up by birds of prey.

Magpie feather
Magpie feather

Leftovers: Animals and birds are not too worried where they leave their droppings. These are excellent clues as to what has passed by.

Also look out for broken egg shells, egg cases and footprints.

Other things to do:

  • Find out about the habitat you plan to visit. What sort of things would you expect to find there?
  • Follow up the clues. Find out more about the living things that left the clues behind. Do they belong in that habitat? Where they just passing through or were they left by a predator?
  • Deer footprints
    Deer footprints
    Capture footprints with plaster of Paris.
  • Dissect a bird of prey’s pellet.
  • Don’t forget to write down the things you see or find. This information might be useful in the future if a species becomes scarce.

And remember:

Always be safe
Ask permission to go on private land first
Leave all living things in their habitats
Have fun!

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Chichester Harbour Conservancy Education
Harbour Office, Itchenor, Chichester, PO20 7AW.   Tel: 01243 512 301