| Story by Meghan McMahon |
Many of us have had the experience of walking along a path or trail and looking down to find we’ve only narrowly avoided stepping in a pile of animal feces, otherwise known as “scat.” And while most of us can easily identify a pile of dog poop, feces from birds and mammals that call our area home is often less easy to recognize.
But the droppings these animals leave behind can tell us a lot about them.
“Scat really can be a clue about these animals,” said Kelli Parke, an interpretive naturalist at the Forest Preserve District’s Four Rivers Environmental Education Center.
The more common types of scat found in the Will County forest preserves come from animals we see most often, including deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, coyotes and various types of birds, Parke said.
Right off the bat, the mere presence of animal scat tells us an animal lives in the area, and the abundance of scat indicates the area is home to a high population of the animal. Where you find animal scat can also be a clue to its behavior, Parke said. You may find raccoon scat, for example, in clumps at the bottom of a tree, which tells us the animal was spending time in the tree.
Scientists can also examine the chemical composition of scat to learn about an animal’s health.
“You can find out if an animal is sick, or if an animal is pregnant,” Parke said.
Different classifications of animals typically produce different types of scat. Mammal scat is usually spherical or tubular in shape, although the shape and consistency varies greatly among species.
Birds, on the other hand, typically produce fluid feces, and it is often whitish in color.