In search of clues / Nature Detective on the trail
Every day on TV we can see fantastic wildlife documentaries where the photographer gets right up close to the animals and their young. This only happens rarely in real life. Most wild animals are naturally shy with people and many are active at night when it is dark. Therefore, it is easy to have the impression that wild mammals are more rare in Denmark than they really are. When we use our senses when we are out in the natural environment, we can find evidence that animals are moving in close proximity to our surroundings. If you understand animal habits and how they live, you increase the likelihood that you will experience the animal up close. "Happy hunting!"
On this page you can read about six different mammals that live in the vicinity of the Kongeå River.
Many kinds of tracks
Tracks left by animals are not only the animal's footprint in mud or snow. It can also be animal faeces (droppings), traces after their meals, nesting holes/pits, territorial markings, etc. You can also hear many animals as they call to others of their species, warning against danger or when rustling leaves and branches when moving in the terrain.
Footprints in the mud and snow
If you spot a footprint in the mud or snow, look out for: The size and shape of the print, imprints from pads or claws. Webbed feet or hair between the footpads, which pattern the animal's trail of footsteps follows.
Texts for tracks:
The Otter's footprint has five toes, connected with webbing. The front footprint is almost circular with a diameter of about 6 cm. The rear footprint is approximately 6-9 cm depending on how much of the sole of the foot is being used to make the steps. Clawmarks are small.
A Fox's footsteps are easy to confuse with those of a dog, but a fox track is more elongated and finer, with smaller pads. The track is approximately 4-4.5 cm wide and about 5 cm long.
Badger footprints are wider than a dog's and leave a clear imprint of its long claws. The front paw leaves a track that is approximately 4 cm wide and 4-7 cm long. The rear pawprint is approximately 3.5 cm wide and 6.5 cm long
Hare tracks have a distinctive pattern of front legs and hind legs. When it runs, the long hind legs leave a track in front of the tracks left by the front feet. The front leg track is egg-shaped and about 3 cm. wide and 5 cm long, whereas the hind leg tracks can be more elongated, 3.5 cm wide and 6 cm long.
Roe deer footprints or cloven hoof prints are 4.5 cm long and approximately 3 cm wide. Roe deer footprints are often seen on the forest floor or on forest roads. If you are very observant, you might see and follow the roe deer paths or movements through the woodland.
A hind's footsteps or hoof impression is 6-7 cm long and 4-5 cm wide. Thoseof a hart are somewhat larger; 8-9 cm long and 6-7 cm wide.
"Guess a poo"
Denmark's popular children's TV programme "Nature Patrol" had a segment in wich the presenters had to guess which animals had left "a greeting" in the form of their droppings. You can play that game too. If you have to "guess a poo", you should pay attention to its size, shape and smell. If you are really geeky, the food residue content of the droppings, also provide a good guess about who left them behind.
Otter droppings are black and slimy when they are fresh and green when they are old. They contain fish scales, and have a characteristic fragrance resembling fish oil. You will see them at slightly elevated areas on the banks of streams.
Fox droppings are 8-10 cm long, sausage-shaped and often winding at one end. In fox droppings you can often see pieces of bones, feathers, wing cases of beetles or seeds from fruits. They use their droppings to mark territory and they are often found on small hillocks or other elevations in the terrain.
Badgers bury their droppings in holes in the ground near their sets, so you never see them.
Hare droppings are round balls 1-2 cm in diameter. They are yellowish-brown, and you can clearly see that they consist of small pieces of plant fibres.
Roe deer droppings resemble a handful of coffee beans. They are black, smooth, short and cylindrical and about 10-14 mm long and 7-10 mm wide.
Red deer droppings are about twice as large as those of roe deer. They are black-brown, smooth, short and cylindrical and 20-25 mm long and 13-18 mm thick.
Here you can read more about the mammals you will find along the Kongeå river, about how they live and the tracks they leave behind in nature.
The otter - webbed toes and fish scales in their droppings
The otter is commonplace in all major rivers in Jutland and otter traces can be found in several places along the Kongeå. You will often find otter tracks on sand and mud banks along the river and on road bridges along the river. The otter is nocturnal and feeds on fish. It has a flat head with small ears, nostrils and eyes that sits high on the head, so that it can see, hear and breathe while swimming. The grey-brown undercoat of its fur is insulating and water-repellent. Its outer coat is brown with a light underside. The otter is 100-130 cm long and weighs 6-11 kg (males), 5-8 kg (females).
Fox - bites feathers from its prey
The fox is a nocturnal creature. It lives everywhere in the open countryside and has also moved into the city, where you can see it in gardens and parks. The fox is pretty omnivorous and feeds on small mammals, birds, carrion and waste. If its prey is a bird, a fox bites through the feathers whereas a bird of prey will pluck them out. Both foxes and badgers live in holes. A fox-hole can be recognised as it has a pile of earth in front of the entrance, that the fox has dug out as a dog would. A fox is the size of a small dog. It has a thick reddish-brown coat with a white chest and a big bushy tail with a black tip.
Badger - has long claws and sleeps all day long
There are many more badgers in Danish nature than you might think. They are nocturnal and sleep all day in their sets. They dig their sets on the slopes in forests and scrubland. Badgers feed on carrion and small animals, and are particularly fond of earthworms.They sniff their way to their prey and have a sense of smell 700 times stronger than humans.Badgers are 60-90 cm long, has a shoulder height of about 30 cm and weigh up to 20 kg. They have thick, grey fur and a distinctive black and white striped head.
Hare - leaves tracks when jumping and eats food twice
Hares live in fields in the countryside, where they eat grass and wild plants. Hares leave small pellet-like droppings that they quickly reconsume. In this way they digest energy from both the plants and the microorganisms that live in their gut. The hare resembles a rabbit with very large ears. It uses its big eyes and ears to watch for enemies and its long hind legs to escape from predators. It has a brown coat that blends in with the surroundings. Hare kittens are kept concealed in a hollow in the ground. If you find a hare kitten in the grass, you might believe it has been abandoned by its mother. This is seldom the case. The mother is probably a distance away so as not to attract predators. The baby hare is only given food once a day.
Roe deer - eats bark and yaps like a dog
The roe deer is Denmark's smallest deer, and is the size of a large dog. Especially in winter, roe deer eat branches and bark from woodland trees. They can leave trees with bark that has been ripped and torn off. Roe deer footprints are often seen on the forest floor or on forest roads. If you are very observant, you might see and follow roe deer paths or movements through the woodland. Roe call each other with a yapping sound, like that of a dog barking. The fur of the roe deeris white under its tail, its so-called mirror. The mirror is evident when the deer flees from an enemy. Every year lose roe bucks lose their antlers, and grow new ones. The buck makes distinctive marks in the trees as it sweeps its new antlers against the trunks and branches. Perhaps you may be lucky to find an old antler in the woods.
Red deer-roars and rolls in the mud
In "Bambi" the red deer is King of the forest. A male red deer (stag) is also an impressive sight. They are 150 cm at shoulder height and can weigh over 200 kg, making them Denmark's largest land mammal. The antlers of a red deer stag are impressive, and may have up to 22 ends. Red deer feed on grass, leaves and shoots and buds from conifers. In winter they can damage trees by tearing the bark off in large strips. Autumn is the deer’s breeding season. The strongest males gather a group of females to them, that they defend against other males. The male shows his strength by rolling in mud and urine and roaring eagerly, so it can be heard far and wide.