Hello everyone,

So, for this weeks Garden Wildlife Blog we are talking about something a bit different; instead of looking directly into the wildlife we find in our garden, we are looking at what they sometimes leave behind! That’s right, their POOP! (Beware pictures of poop ahead). 

Poop, crap, scat, turd, stool, kak, dung, doody, faeces… there are so many words to use when speaking about animal excrement (including humans). Call it what you will, but I prefer to call it scat, after the ology (ology means ‘the study of’) it is referred to, ‘scatology’. It is a scientific study that carries out chemical and genetic analysis on animal excrement from which we can look at many ecological and biological factors; such as an animal’s diet, animal behaviours, distribution, and we can identify individuals and monitor population dynamics. Many conservationists will collect scat as tangible evidence in scientific studies, it is particularly great if you are looking at if an elusive species is present within an area. Because it is non-invasive, it causes little disruption to species that are already struggling.  

However, we don’t need to be a scientist to identify what scat belongs to what animal, in most cases. Scat comes in all shapes and sizes and most of the time you can tell what animal it belongs to just by looking at it. The scat that you find in your garden may vary depending on your garden, and if species use it for somewhere to shelter, feed or pass through. Of course, it is quite easy for birds to travel around, making gardens more accessible to them, but the same cannot be said for mammals. They do not fly and need ways in and out of your garden. Some may dig through, find small holes in your fence line and some can jump over your fence if it isn’t too high (roe deer and red fox).

Commons scats you could come across in your garden are fox scats, since we know these have adapted well to living alongside us and within our garden features, such as under our sheds or decking. Foxes tend to have an interesting habit, which is that they like to poo on raised objects. It is thought that this is territorial behaviour, as the smell of their poo will spread further if it is raised and blown by the wind, letting other foxes know they are here, and it is their area. Other species that my take a poop in your garden are badger, hedgehog, birds, roe deer, brown hare, rabbit, otter, rat and mice. The likelihood of you finding these different scats will vary for some species, for instance badgers like to leave their scat in tidy latrines that are a collection of dug holes where they deposit their waste, but it is still possible they can poop while on the move. I mean if you got to go you go right?

So, lets take a closer look at this potential scat in your gardens….

Red Fox:

The scat from a red fox can vary in length, between 5 – 20cm (See photo below). However, they are usually long, twisted and pointed at one end. If you look close enough, or decide, you might see the remains of its prey – including hair, bones and feathers. In urban settings they look more like dog droppings, but in rural areas, fox scat is quite dark. This is due to the difference in their diets; urban foxes can adopt a diet eating human food waste while rural foxes will eat more birds and mammals. When it is fresh it can be distinguished by having a distinctive musky smell.

If you find scat on something that is raised, it is a good chance that it is a fox. I left my rugby ball in the garden to find a huge poo on it one day, perfectly centred in the middle, of course I found it funny!

(Photo: Sue Crookes, taken from https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/.)

Hedgehog:

Hedgehog scat is sausage shaped and around 1.5 – 5 cm long (see photo below). They are often very dark in colour, shiny and squidgy, and usually pointed on one end. Hedgehogs are omnivorous and will eat a variety of foods, including worms, insects, nuts and cat food (when given by humans). If you look closely it is likely you will see worms and fragments from insects in the scat.

 

(Photo: Darren Tansley, taken from https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/.)

Badger:

Badger scat is usually quite large and found within shallow pits that they dig in the ground, called latrines. Earth worms make up about 80% of the badger’s diet. They will also eat slugs, insects, eggs, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, carrion and fruit, so quite a varied selection. Their scat also varies, from firm sausage-shaped to a more sloppy and wet consistency, especially if they have eaten lots of worms. Another good tell is the smell, badger poo has a sweet, musky smell.


(Photo: Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, taken from https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/.)

Otter:

Having a diet of fish, aquatic insects, amphibians, birds, eggs, small mammals and crustaceans, and living within an aquatic environment, their scat can be quite different to other mammals. Also known as spraints, they are around 3 – 10 cm in length and are usually slimy, dark greenish in colour, and full of scales, fish bones and crayfish parts (see photo below). Depending on what they have recently eaten however, they can also appear darker in colour and more black than green. Interestingly, a unique tell to figure out if it is otter poo is by its smell, which is described to smell like jasmine tea.

(Photo: Darren Tansley, taken from https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/.)

Roe deer (for those with the big gardens!)

For some of us, having a large garden with low fencing can sometimes mean being visited by roe deer, since they are quite good jumpers. Being a ruminant species, meaning they regurgitate and chew their food twice before digesting it, you cannot see the contents of what they have eaten in their scat. They produce pellet droppings, about 1 – 1.4 cm in size, that are smooth, shiny and dark with one pointy end (See photo below).

 

(photo: Nature Photographers Ltd)

Brown hare and rabbit:

Hare droppings are like rabbit droppings but larger and more flattened (see photo below – right side). Hare droppings are around 1.2 – 1.5 cm, whereas rabbit poo is less than 1 cm in size. Rabbit poo is also darker in colour, but it can appear light-brown or green in colour. Both species leave clusters of droppings.

 

(Photo: Darren Tansley, taken from https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/.)

Rat and mice spp:

Rat scats are large and oval-shaped, dark in colour and around 1.7 – 2 cm in length. Mouse scats are much smaller in size (see photo below). Common rat and mice species you might find in your garden are brown rat and wood mice (long-tailed field mice). 

So, why don’t you go on a poop hunt in your garden and see if you have been visited by any of these creatures. A lot of the mammals in the UK are nocturnal and difficult to see in the day, therefore seeing their scat will let you know who you have visiting you when you’re not looking .

Now fancy testing your knowledge? Try this RSPB poop quiz below!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/big-wild-sleepout/whose-poo/

Thanks for reading and happy searching!

Paige

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