Animal sign

Tracking isn’t just about finding the tracks that an animal leaves behind, it’s also about the other clues that they leave that can inform us of their presence.  These clues are often refereed to as ‘sign’.  Here I’ll briefly describe some of those different types of  animal sign.


Scat is the term used in tracking for faeces.  Recognising the scat of different animal species will tell you which species of animal are around.  You can sometimes tell what the animal has been eating by looking closely at the scat and you can also ‘age’ scat to understand how long it’s been there.

This image is a fox scat and has the classic tapering and spiralling at the end.

animal sign | tracking | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east


Pellets are made by many bird species including owls raptors, corvids and gulls.  They are the undigested parts of a bird’s food, such as hair or bones, which are regurgitated (coughed up through the beak).

With practice, the pellets of different bird species can be distinguished from each other.

It can be fun to soak pellets in water and then look at the bones and hair to try and work out what the bird has been eating.

Feeding sign

Animals will often leave behind remnants of a meal.  Examples might include partially eaten cones left behind by a squirrel or mouse.  The photo below shows a nut that has been wedged into a fissure in a tree by a nuthatch.

animal sign | tracking | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Sticking with birds, this next photo shows where a woodpecker has been searching out insects in a decaying birch.

animal sign | tracking | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east


Discard is material that is left behind.  A good example here is to look along fence lines and check to see if there is any hair stuck to the fence.  This is a magnified photo of some deer hair and badger hair that I found stuck to a fence about 10 years ago.

Fallow deer and badger hair

Gnaws, chews, scratches

Animals will often chew or scratch at other objects.  For example, badgers will scratch their claws on trees.

Beds, dens, nests etc

Nests are an obvious example.  This photo is a long tailed tit nest in the fork of an ash.

animal sign | tracking | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Deer will walk around in a circle to flatten undergrowth to form a bed, often referred to as a couch.

animal sign | tracking | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Feeding sites

Related to feeding sign, but a feeding site might indicate regular use.  Squirrels will often sit on a stump to eat and leave the remnants of their meal behind.  Somewhat unusually, I found frog spawn on top of a fence post a few years ago, probably left behind by a buzzard that had eaten the frog.animal sign | tracking | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east


Kill sites

Again related to feeding sign, you might come across the scene of a kill.  It could be an explosion of feathers or a pigeon missing its head indicating that a bird has been killed by a raptor.

We look animal sign on our Tracking & Nature Awareness course as well as on our IOL Bushcraft Competency Diploma course.

You can see loads of photos from the day, as well as from all of our courses, on our Facebook page.

About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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