Cool Science Experiments ~ Back Yard Animal Tracking Station

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Find out what kind of animals come through your yard at night. You might be surprised at who your nocturnal and early morning visitors are. We love cool science experiments! This one can be done any time of the year. 

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We decided to add this to our list of fun Summer Science Experiments. This can certainly be done in the winter as snow is a wonderful way to capture animal prints. 

Supplies

  • A sheet of plywood (Ours was about 2 feet by 3 feet; we already had it on hand. Don’t worry too much about the size if you have something that you think will work.)
  • Mud.  Mix dirt and water, enough to cover the plywood.
  • Block of wood or shallow tin can to hold food.  We used a piece of wood we had left over from a craft project. You can also use a tuna fish can with any sharp edges removed or even a small log or thick piece of branch. You want something that won’t be likely to be taken far away by animals, so you can examine it for more clues as to what animals were there.
  • Peanut butter and foods that will stick to it such as cereal, bird seed, lettuce, pieces of carrot. 
  • A field guide or app that identifies animal tracks (see below for resources). 

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Identifying Animal Tracks

Book: Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks

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Book: Tracks, Scats and Signs (Take Along Guides)

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App:   iTrack Wildlife

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How to Set Up an Animal Tracking Station

  1. Mix up the mud in a large bucket or container. You want it to be the consistency of peanut butter, thinner if you live in a dry area, to prevent the water from evaporating before the animals come to the station.  
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  2. At dusk, spread the mud over the plywood. Make it nice a smooth.
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  3. Apply peanut butter to the block of wood or tin can. 
  4. Sprinkle on cereal, birdseed, lettuce, etc.
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  5. Place the tracking station in a level spot in your yard. Put the food in the center.
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  6. Early in the morning, with your tracking app or field guide handy, check the tracking station.
  7. Re-set the tracking station by smoothing out the mud and replacing the food. You may find different animals come to it on different nights or that different types of food attract different animals. 

If your yard borders on woods or a field, place the tracking station there. If not, place the tracking station outside of a fenced back yard or near the shelter of bushes and trees. Placing it out in the open could make animals vulnerable to predators. They’ll be more likely to stay and make footprints if they are near shelter.

The first night, we used sand. There were definitely tracks there, but they were hard to see. We thought we saw fox and rabbit tracks. Those animals are both prevalent in our area so it is possible. And the block of wood was licked completely clean and carried a few feet away from the plywood! 

The second night we used the mud. We saw the tracks more clearly and they looked like rabbit and squirrel tracks. We took pictures but the tracks didn’t photograph well. After checking, we went back inside. Guess what we saw when we looked out the window?  

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Not the best picture, as I took it through a window screen, but we were so excited to see a bunny eating the food we put out!


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