Some kinds of wildlife can seem incredibly tame and before long you find yourself looking on them as old friends in the garden. Other animals, however, are inclined to be a bit on the shy and secretive side, the sort of visitors that you’ll probably only ever see once in a while – and even then you need to be lucky!
When it comes to these more retiring types, often the only way you know they’ve been is by the tracks, trails and other signs that they leave behind. Learning to spot and then recognise their tell-tale footprints, impressions and discarded meals opens up a whole new dimension to the wildlife garden – and it just takes a good guide-book and a little practise to get started.
So are you an expert tracker, or a bit more of a beginner? Try our little quiz and find out. The answers are at the bottom, so have fun and good luck!
1. When is the best time to view wildlife tracks?
- a) When there’s snow on the ground.
- b) After rain when the ground is muddy and soft
- c) At dusk.
2. Something’s been attacking your nesting boxes – who’s the likely culprit?
- a) Squirrel
- b) Fox
- c) Woodpecker
3. An area of your lawn has been covered in 4-6 inch (10-15cm) deep, funnel shaped holes. Who did it?
- a) Mole
- b) Rabbit
- c) Badger
4. What sort of footprint do these creatures leave – paws or hooves?
- a) Hedgehog
- b) Fox
- c) Deer
- d) Mouse
- e) Badger
5. Which bird leaves a footprint that looks exactly like an arrow?
- a) Pheasant
- b) Crow
- c) Sparrow
6. How would you tell a stoat’s track from the footprints of a weasel?
- a) The stoat’s is smaller
- b) The stoat’s is larger
- c) You can’t tell them apart.
7. A fox has been visiting – or is it next door’s dog? How can you be sure?
- a) The dog’s pads are larger and closer together
- b) The fox’s pads are larger and closer together
- c) You can’t; if their feet are the same size, it’s impossible to tell.
8. You’ve found some snail shells that have obviously been broken open by something – but what?
- a) Rat
- b) Thrush
- c) Both
- d) Neither
9. Who’s been eating your cherries and leaving cracked cherry stones underneath your tree?
- a) Hawfinch
- b) Starling
- c) Thrush
10. Which of these makes an ideal way to keep a record of the tracks you find?
- a) Make a careful plaster of Paris cast.
- b) Draw an accurate sketch, noting the lengths etc.
- c) Take a photograph with a coin or something in the photo to give scale.
1. (a) When there’s snow on the ground. You can sometimes see good tracks in muddy ground but snow is definitely best; most visiting mammals are nocturnal, so dusk isn’t the right time to look – but early morning is!
2. (c) Woodpeckers have a bad habit of attacking nesting boxes – and sadly sometimes to get at the young chicks inside.
3. (c) Badgers can make a terrible mess of a lawn as they hunt for chafer bugs and other tasty morsels. Those deep, funnel shaped holes are an absolute give-away.
4. All of them have paws, except for (c) the deer, which has hooves. One point for each correct answer.
5. (a) Pheasant; both the crow and the sparrow leave a track with a clear backwards pointing toe, while the pheasant’s three toes make an arrow shape – appearing to point back to where it has come from!
6. (b) Although they do look very similar, the stoat’s tracks are generally larger.
7. (a) Although they do look very similar, the dog’s pads are larger and closer together so you can tell them apart, even if their feet are the same size.
8. (c) Thrushes are well known for this, but rats are also partial to snails and gnaw their way through their shells to get at the soft meal inside – so the answer is both!.
9. (a) Hawfinches crack cherry stones almost perfectly in two with their powerful beaks; starlings and thrushes are notorious cherry stealers too, but they enjoy the flesh, typically eating the lot and leaving the stalk and stone still attached to the tree.
10. All of these are ideal ways to keep a record of any tracks you find in your garden – so give yourself a point whatever you answered, and a bonus point if you knew that all three were right.
How did you do?
- 15, Fast track!
- 10 – 14, Tricky tracker
- 5 – 9, On track
- 0 – 4, Trailing