Pileated Woodpecker Holes

These holes are a sure sign of the pileated woodpecker.  

New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful states in the country, and Granite State residents love to be outdoors. Whether you enjoy the woods, fields, lakes and rivers, or the coastline, there is something for everyone. This varied landscape with its 27 types of habitat (according to the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan), is home to some 68 species of mammals. Some of them are hard to sight in the wild unless you know where and when to look, but the evidence they have been there is all around. Biologists call this evidence sign.

Sign can include a clump of fur, tracks in the snow, feathers, bones, scat (droppings), food scraps, and more. Beaver leave an obvious sign that is hard to miss near the wetlands they live in—tree stumps that come to a point where they have chewed them down. Bear leave claw marks and deer scrape their antlers on trees to rub the velvet covering off once it has dried and to mark their territory. The distinct scrape marks and missing bark are sure indicators that they have been there. A bull (male) moose will make a wallow, or wet depression, in the ground during the mating season by pawing the ground and then laying in it to leave his scent to attract a cow moose. Bears will also create wallows but generally in muddy water to keep them cool.

Bobcat scat

Animal sign can include a clump of fur, tracks in the snow, feathers, bones, scat (droppings), food scraps, and more. Pictured is bobcat scat. 

A common type of sign, which can be more difficult to interpret, is animal tracks. Whether it is great blue heron tracks in the sand, bobcat tracks in the snow, or white-tailed deer hoof prints in the mud, with a sharp eye, a little practice, and a good guide to animal tracks you can become proficient in no time.

Of course it is not only mammals that leave evidence of their interaction with their environment. Birds, amphibians, reptiles, and even insects can mark the landscape with their activities, such as an empty chrysalis from a butterfly, a snakeskin, woodpecker holes in a tree, or frog trails in the duckweed on a pond. By looking more closely, you can really learn a great deal about animals and how they interact with their habitat.

Another handy tool is a field identification guide or an animal behavior and tracking guide. They typically list animals with images of their tracks, information about their behavior and feeding habits, territory and much more. There are also some great videos on YouTube about finding sign. Be sure to put where you live because all regions are different.

So the next time you venture out in New Hampshire, keep your eyes peeled for the sign you may have been unknowingly walking by. Or if you are looking for a fun activity to get the kids outside and maybe spur on a budding biologist, try a scavenger hunt to see how many sign they can find—children especially love looking for scat.