Nature Near You: Signs of Animal Activity

by Nicole Finnicum

Nature Near You participants crafted animal tracks with natural materials to help them learn about the different sizes and shapes of tracks.

The eighth week of Nature Near You, Sanibel Sea School’s e-newsletter, featured signs of backyard animal activity.

Through emails delivered at 9 .am. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Nature Near You participants learned about signs animals leave behind in the environment. The traces animals leave behind give scientists and backyard biologists clues on how animals are interacting with their environment. Things like tracks, scat, and leftover food can key us in on what specific species have been exploring our backyards with us!

On Monday, participants learned all about animal tracking, or about the footprints that animals leave behind from walking, hopping, or slithering! Like our fingerprints, animals leave behind unique tracks that allow scientists and naturalists to identify what species have been present in an area. Observing the shape of the tracks, the number of toes, and even the shape of the claw marks are all key indicators of species. We created an animal tracking matching game to learn all of the most common tracks found in backyards across the United States. Then, we encouraged participants to get out into their own backyards to see if they could recognize any of the tracks they learned.

Wednesday’s issue included more information on the unique “signs” that animals may leave behind. One of the signs that naturalists use is scat, which is another word for animal droppings. By observing scat, we can locate traces of what the animal has previously eaten giving us a clue as to what animal left the scat. This might not sound like the most glamorous form of animal tracking, but is a great way for us to understand what an animal’s diet is like, what species are in a local area, and see where animals are marking their territories.

On Friday, Marine Science Educator Sam Nowinski shared a fun way to get creative with animal tracking. Shared via Sanibel Sea School’s YouTube Channel, Sam challenged us to go out in nature to get inspiration for creating our own animal tracks at home. She showed us how to mimic different tracks using just a piece of paper, some leaves, and stones that can be found in most of our backyards. Using these materials, Sam created hooved tracks and even more complicated bear tracks. This activity was a great way to become more familiar with the different shapes of tracks, learning how many toes different animals have.

Sometimes when we step into our backyards or any natural space, we might be disappointed when we can’t observe wildlife at first glance. But that doesn’t mean that the wildlife isn’t there – it is important to remember that many animals are nocturnal or crepuscular and are not as active during our waking hours.

With the skills that we learned this week in Nature Near You, we can investigate the signs of animal presence using tracks, scat, feathers, or even things like partially gnawed on food! We’d like to challenge all of you to explore your backyards for signs of animal activity and let us know what you find.

Nature Near You will continue through June and be delivered via email. If you are interested in joining the mailing list, please email If you missed out on an issue of Nature Near You, all of the content can be accessed at

Nature Near You is Sanibel Sea School’s offering to the community. If you would like to support our efforts, please visit or email for more information!

Part of the SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) Family, Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.

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