How to Spy Signs of Winter Wildlife

Parks at Home, Nature Notes

Sometimes peering out the window or stepping out into the cold can give you a case of the winter blahs. When gray skies and dreary scenery greet us, it is hard to get enthusiastic about anything outdoors. However, if you take the time to really look at the nature around you, you will find things that can make your wintertime experience a little more interesting.

No matter the weather, wildlife continues to be active and moving about, leaving signs of their activities wherever they go. Birds are nesting in the trees, deer are leaving tracks in the snow and squirrels are scurrying to find food, among other animals trying to survive the winter. Here some signs of wildlife that you can look for to make your next trek outdoors entertaining.

TRACKS

Coyote prints in the snow

Many animals leave their tracks as they forage for food or move from one location to the next. Animal tracks are the easiest to see in the snow or when the ground is muddy. Many of the tracks you will see in Ohio are deer, rabbits, opossums and squirrels, to name a few. Of course, each of their tracks look different, so it is typically easy to try and identify what is what. The best way to find tracks is to explore along a nature trail, walk by tree lines or trek along creeks and rivers.

NESTS

A mature bald eagle sits in its nest with its two chicks.

With the leaves off the trees in winter, nests are typically easy to spot. Some are old and unused, and some are very active with a variety of birds that stay in the region year-round. Different nest sizes and styles determine what kind of animal is calling it home. For example, robins typically make a smaller, cup-shaped nest made of mud and small twigs; bluebirds typically claim hollowed-out areas of a tree or bird boxes; and birds of prey, like hawks and eagles, make large, flatter nests with tree limbs. However, birds aren’t the only animals that nest in trees. Keep an eye out for squirrels, mice and raccoons too!

SCAT

A white-tailed deer pauses on a trail, looking directly at the camera.

Watch where you step as you venture outdoors seeking signs of wildlife! Keep your eye on the ground for evidence of animal scat, also known as fecal matter. Obviously, different animals will produce different sizes and types of scat, so observation should help you determine what animal previously crossed your path. The most noticeable scat you will find in this area will be deer, which is shaped like large pellets. Depending on your location, you may also find coyote droppings, which will probably contain more hair and bones from their prey; fox or raccoon scat, which both look more like domesticated dog poop; or squirrel, mice and rabbit droppings, which will obviously be much smaller in size.

As you observe nature and look for signs of activity, it may be helpful to keep a log of your findings. Tracking what you see will help you get a better idea of what wildlife frequents your area and how often. This not only could be a fun activity with the kids, but could also be helpful in figuring out what is eating your bushes or what might be making your dog go crazy when they are out in the yard. Regardless of what you may do with the information, the main thing is to get yourself outdoors and have fun!


Kimberly Whitton
Public Engagement Coordinator

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