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Identifying Animals By Their Scat

10-14-16-fisher-scat-20161012_5024Anyone who has tried to discover what wildlife resides in their woods knows that signs of animals are much more likely to be seen than the animals themselves. One of these signs is an animal’s scat. There are different factors regarding scat that help to reveal the identity of the animal that left it. One is where you find it. Different animals deposit their scat in different locations. For instance, foxes typically do so along and at the intersection of trails, Fishers often use stumps or other elevated surfaces.

Another helpful hint is the shape of the scat. Many mammal species have distinctively-shaped droppings, but they can vary depending on the animal’s diet. If you open any book containing scat descriptions, and turn to the page on Fishers, you will undoubtedly come across descriptive words such as “twisted”, “black”, “tapered”, and “pointed ends.” Indeed, if the Fisher has consumed prey, its scat is usually as described. But if the Fisher has been eating fruit, which they often do in the late summer and fall, its scat is tubular and quite smooth, with little twisting. While scat can be an excellent clue to the identity of an animal, interpreting it can be tricky! (Pictured is tubular Fisher scat filled with the seeds and skins of grapes behind old, rained-on Fisher scat filled with fur and bones.)

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17 responses

  1. Jeremy

    Looks like grouse if I have the size right. Habitat looks right.

    October 14, 2016 at 8:01 am

    • It does somewhat resemble grouse, Jeremy, but it’s definitely Fisher – this stump is a Fisher’s scent post, used repeatedly throughout the year, it’s full of grapes which to my knowledge grouse don’t eat, and the size, shape and color aren’t quite right. Grouse scat is much smaller (it’s hard to know the exact size of the pictured scat), consists of ground up buds, leaves, etc. and is quite fibrous, and it is brown with a white-washed tip. Usually there are many individual pellets, not just one. Good eye.

      October 14, 2016 at 8:14 am

  2. Betsy Janeway

    Dear Mary,
    I immediately identified the scat as turkey! Then I saw the edge of maple leaf in the lower right corner of the photo, which gave me some info on the scat size. If you’d put your chapstick next to it, we’d have seen the size. Or a ruler. Or something!
    Betsy Janeway

    October 14, 2016 at 8:24 am

    • You’re absolutely right. I should use familiar objects or a tape measure to show size in more of my photos, especially when they are educational photos. The trouble is I can’t stand to have man-made objects in my photographs. I must get over that for my readers’ sake! Thanks, Betsy!

      October 14, 2016 at 9:34 am

  3. kathy mcgreavy

    Hi Mary,

    I’ve met you on several occasions here in western Maine at the Greater Lovell Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Assoc. Right now I have your Naturally Curious book on my desk, opened to Oct. I am leading nature hikes with several second grade classrooms and your book is invaluable.

    I am hoping you might be able to give me some contact info on any tracking workshops I might join. Any you know of in Maine/NH – White Mountains? In Jan. I will be taking the same groups on snowshoes to do some tracking by the Saco and the Little Ossipee Rivers. I am learning on my own but could use some expert guidance.

    Thanks.

    Have a great autumn.

    Kathy McGreavy

    ________________________________

    October 14, 2016 at 8:38 am

    • Hi Kathy, I would contact Tin Mountain Conservation Center, in Albany, NH. They are a wonderful resource and I am sure would be able to help you out. Ask for Lori Jean Kinsey and mention that I suggested you get in touch. They are a great organization!

      October 14, 2016 at 9:37 am

    • Cindy

      Kathy, I belong to Bearcamp Trackers – an animal tracking, conservation group located in Tamworth NH. We go out as a group monthly and often have folks join us – as well as knowledge of great tracking books, programs, events, etc. There is a program coming up in November with Sue Morse. A free talk at night and then a $20 guided walk the next day. Josh Fecteau is a naturalist (I believe located in Western Maine). I don’t know him, but do read his blog. Also White Pines in Maine is terrific. Feel free to give me a call for more information. — Cindy. 603-733-7024

      October 15, 2016 at 6:58 am

      • Sue Morse is an excellent tracker!

        October 16, 2016 at 9:18 am

  4. Linda

    You are saying that fishers go back to the same area to defecate? (A scatbox?!)
    Re: rulers in photos–I agree would be helpful, also sympathize with Mary’s aesthetic sense. How about a close up with ruler insert? You often have photos within photos.

    October 14, 2016 at 9:58 am

    • Linda, fishers have scent posts where they regularly deposit scat, but they also defecate elsewhere at random.

      October 14, 2016 at 10:30 am

  5. mariagianferrari

    Very informative–thank you!!

    October 14, 2016 at 10:21 am

  6. Cordelia Merritt

    Fascinating – do more descriptions, please, (at another time). Thank you. ( No “ick” factor here!) How’s Emma? Cordie

    October 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

  7. Do you have a favorite scat field guide? I find they are so often lacking in information beyond simply size and shape–my knowledge of an animal’s chosen place to poop is based solely on observation!

    October 15, 2016 at 6:39 am

    • Do you have Mark Elbroch’s “Animal Tracks & Sign” ? It’s excellent. I use a number of books, but if I had to use just one, this would be it. Paul Rezendes’ “Tracking & the Art of Seeing” is an old favorite!

      October 16, 2016 at 9:25 am

      • I’ve been meaning to get Elbroch’s book for several years now…this is the final recommendation I needed! Thank you!

        October 18, 2016 at 6:41 am

  8. Margaret Badger

    I thought this would be scat form a make wild turkey!

    October 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    • It does bear a resemblance to male wild turkey scat, you’re right!

      October 16, 2016 at 9:17 am

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