The winter snow provides a great backdrop for finding wildlife scat; you can learn how to identify some of the common critters that reside in our State Parks by looking at their scat. We will be focused on scat that you are most likely to run into while out exploring the beautiful New York State Parks.
When first looking at scat you want to see if there are any remnants or sign of what the animal has been eating. For example, are there berries, fur, bones, or plant fibers? Identifying what the scat is made up of will narrow down the type of species that the scat can belong to. If the scat contains fur or bone then you can assume that the animal is a carnivore, like a fisher or bobcat. Where things can get tricky is if the scat has berries or fur and berries, this comes from an omnivore like a fox, coyote, raccoon or black bear that eat both meat and vegetation. If the scat only contains plant fibers then you can assume that the animal is an herbivore. Some New York species that fit this category are deer, rabbit, porcupine and woodchuck.
The next thing to look at is the placement of the scat and its shape. Canines will generally place their scat higher off the ground such as on a rock in a trail; this is a way they mark their territory so it can be found by other canines. Scraping marks in the dirt from their paws can also be found in front of canine scat. Felines don’t specify where their scat lands and the scat are tubular and sectioned. Deer and rabbit scat is shaped like a ball or marble and can be found primarily in feeding areas. The scat from black bear and raccoon is usually dark in color and will be tubular in shape.
White-tailed deer scat is probably the most common that you will find in New York. It will generally be found in a pile and each piece will be around the size of a small marble. Softer scat will still resemble the ball shape, but more in a patty form.
White-tailed Deer vs. Cottontail Rabbit
Below is a picture of coyote scat. Notice how the end of the scat looks like it has been twisted. Fox and coyote scat look similar, but fox scat is generally smaller. The second photo is scat from a domestic dog, notice the end are not twisted.
Black bear scat is usually in a large tubular pile and usually will contain different food items depending on the time of year. In the spring, bear scat will most likely contain vegetation. In the summer and fall, it will contain things such as seeds, berries, corn, acorns and apples if available.
Scat from a raccoon can be found anywhere from the water’s edge to around your trash can. It is moderately sized and can contain anything from berries to shiny garbage fragments (raccoons are attracted to shiny objects, especially in water).
Bonus scat: Wild turkey have made a serious comeback in New York State, and are a common sight around agricultural field and forested land. Turkey scat is greenish to brown in color and it is believed that male turkeys’ (toms) scat is in a J shape whereas females’ (hens) scat is in more of a pile. The difference in shape is due to the different body structures between males and females.