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How to Spot Wildlife in Winter

Nature Center Manager Angelique Harshman gives tips on how to look for wildlife in the winter.

 

Winter at Knoch Knolls Park

Winter is a great time to get out and look for wildlife. Overcast days tend to be the best times to see animals, even when it’s a little rainy. But even if you don’t see an animal it’s really fun to search for the clues they leave behind. Here’s how!

Clue #1: Footprints

 

Squirrel tracks in the fresh snow

Q: Where do you look for animal footprints?  

A:  Look in the snow, sand or mud.

Q:  When is the best time to find animal tracks?

A.  The perfect time to look for animal tracks is the morning after a snowstorm.  

Q:  What can you learn from the animal’s footprints?

A: Not only can you identify an animal by the footprint it leaves behind, but you can determine which direction it’s traveling and how fast it was moving.  It’s a story of the animal’s activities waiting to be deciphered! For instance, striped skunks leave a sideways track when they run and a deer’s two dew claws show up when it’s running.

Q:  How do you identify the animal from the tracks?

A: Many tracks have easy ways to identify them - raccoon front paws look like little hands and one of my favorite tracks belongs to the opossum. The opossum’s hind food has a “thumb” that sticks out sideways. If you are interested in learning to identify animal tracks go online and search for “animal tracks” and you will find a number of identification sheets that you can print out. Here is an example, a Field Guide to Illinois Mammal Tracks.

 

Raccoon tracks in the mud

Clue # 2: Scat

Q: What is scat? 

A:  Scat is animal poop. 

Q: What does it tell you about an animal?

 

Photo by Arnold J. Koenig

A:  The size and shape tell you whether it’s from a larger animal, such as a deer, or from a smaller animal, like a cottontail rabbit. Both deer and rabbit scat consist of round pellets. Wild dogs, including coyotes and foxes, have poop that looks similar to a pet dog’s poop, but the wild dog scat may have fur and feathers in it, since they eat other wild animals and birds. It’s easy to find more information online, for example, a picture guide .

Never touch or handle scat since it may contain parasites or diseases.

Clue #3:  Nests

Q: What nests can be seen in our area in the winter?

A:  Once the leaves fall in autumn you can easily see the leaf nests, or dreys, of our local tree squirrels. Both grey and fox squirrels build these round nests as protection against rain, wind, snow and to raise their young. They will also nest inside of tree holes but these types of homes aren’t as readily available.

 

Photo of a Great Horned Owl and young by Arnold J. Koenig

One bird that starts nesting in January is the Great Horned Owl. They use old hawk or crow nests high up in the trees. So you may be able to see these large owls sitting in a nest this winter. Don’t forget to look up!

Clue #4:  Leftovers or wing impressions birds leave behind after a meal

Q: What clues might predators leave behind?  

A:  Fur, feathers and even blood in the snow can indicate a struggle between a predator, like a hawk, and its prey. It’s possible, and really exciting, to come across complete wing prints of a hawk, or owl, that landed in the snow as they caught their food. 

 

Red-tailed Hawk

Q: What evidence can be seen from plant-eating animals?

A:  For plant eating animals, look closely at the end of twigs.  If they are cleanly clipped off at an angle it’s the work of our local rabbit – the cottontail. If the twig is ragged and shredded then it was made by the white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer don’t have top front teeth, or incisors, so they use their bottom incisors to grab and then have to pull causing the shredded appearance.

Learn More at Knoch Knolls Nature Center

For more information about finding wildlife in winter, join us for our free Nature Discovery Days on animal tracking in January 2017. Each Saturday from 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and on Monday, January 16 from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. we offer self-guided activities geared towards families that help you learn about animal tracking. You can take home an animal track identification sheet to help you recognize the tracks you see around your house or neighborhood. Happy Tracking!

 

Raccoon

 


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To learn more about our sponsorship opportunities contact
Stacey Fontechia Sales and Sponsorship Manager at 630-848-3575 or at sfontechia@napervilleparks.org.

Looking for an opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives while building a fun and dynamic career? Consider the Naperville Park District! It takes all kinds of skills, knowledge and talent to serve the recreation needs of the Naperville community. If you’re passionate about the outdoors, staying active, having fun and encouraging others to do the same, then check out our part-time and full-time career opportunities.

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Funds raised through the Naperville Parks Foundation support the Naperville Park District’s Fee Assistance Program. The Naperville Parks Foundation supports the recreation needs and desires of the residents of Naperville – encouraging health and wellness, fitness, family time, and fun. The Foundation supports the mission of making recreation of all kinds accessible to everyone across the community, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 Naperville Park District officials heard the good news for which they have been waiting for many months: the District has achieved national accreditation through the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA).

The decision was announced at the NRPA national conference in Atlanta following a formal hearing before the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).

Naperville is only the second park district in Illinois to earn this distinction and the 104th nationally accredited agency in the nation; there are more than 10,000 recreation agencies in the United States. The Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies accredits a handful of park agencies each year that have completed a multi-step process involving a self-review by the agency, a site visit, and an evaluation and formal report by the Commission.

“We are extremely proud to bring this honor to Naperville,” said Park District Executive Director Ray McGury. “It’s an affirmation of our high standards and also an encouragement to continue bringing high quality recreation and parks experiences to our community.”

The Park District’s accreditation process began approximately one year ago and included an extensive self-evaluation by staff and a 5-day visit from CAPRA reviewers this past July. Maintaining the accreditation requires annual reports and 5- and 10-year reviews.

Park District staff members noted that the CAPRA process has helped them see the big picture, focus on long term goals and plans, review plans more regularly, organize documents so that they are accessible and useable, and collaborate more effectively with other departments and outside organizations.

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