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No. 34 Discover wild animal clues

Hunting for bugs at Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey
Hunting for bugs at Winkworth Arboretum | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

There are lots of different things to look for when you're on the trail of an animal or bird. If you keep quiet and an eye out for footprints, feathers, fur and poo and you might find something sooner than you think. Discover wild animal clues is no. 34 of our ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ challenge.

Are you ready?

You'll need sharp eyes and keen ears for this challenge, as discovering wild animal clues can be tricky. Keep your eyes peeled on the floor and in the trees around you and listen out to see if you can hear the animals, birds or mini beasts you're looking for. Keeping quiet as can be is a good idea too, so you don’t scare any animals away.

Top tip

It's probably best to wear trainers or boots so you can follow the trail wherever it takes you.

Girl looking into water at Rowallane Garden, County Down
Girl looking into water at Rowallane Garden | © National Trust Images/John Millar

What to look out for


Remember, animals don't wear shoes, so their footprints all look very different. From a horse's hoof to a rabbit's paw, learn what you're looking for, and what their prints look like.

A spotter sheet for animal prints may help you too just in case you see some prints you don't recognise – are you following a yeti?

If there are footprints, can you work out which way they are going?

Poo or sick

If it hasn't recently rained and there's no muddy ground to track footprints, you can also follow other clues like droppings (poo) or pellets which owls vomit up once they've eaten.

Fur and feathers

Other clues about animals living near where you're looking for them can include fur or wool caught on fences, or feathers on the ground. In spring, look out for broken eggshells on the ground which can alert you to the fact that there’s a bird's nest in a tree above.

Visitors exploring the Play Trail at Speke Hall, Liverpool
Visitors exploring the Play Trail at Speke Hall | © National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra


Holes are another good starting place as they could be homes for rabbits or badgers. Molehills – little piles of earth on grassy fields –usually show you where a mole has been tunnelling.

Little beasts

You don't need to discover big animals like sheep or cows, as finding smaller animals is just as much fun. In the same way as you see molehills, little casts of soil on the top of a garden can show you that worms live in the soil and are doing their wormy thing beneath the ground. You can also search through grass or gardens to find ants and watch them going about their daily lives.

Two girls exploring the woodland trails at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire

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