Signs of Wildlife in New York City
Thanks to the Natural Areas Conservancy and the Natural Resource Group (of NYC Parks) for this awesome blog post. They're leading a walk with ecologists on February 7th that will show off the trees, tracks and other wonders of Pelham Bay Park. Sign-up here.
Winter is a good time to look for owls in NYC! Some species, such as the great horned owl, breed during the winter, while others such as saw-whets migrate to the City to find a milder climate than their inland and northern breeding areas.
- Look for “whitewash” on tree trunks – accumulations of white bird droppings – that are left by owls wintering above.
- Owls especially like to winter in evergreen trees and shrubs and may be seen through the needles if you look carefully.
- Owl pellets, gray oval packages of fur and small mammal bones, may be found on the ground beneath their roost trees, sometimes in large accumulations.
Winter is also a good time to find last year’s songbird nests, including American robins, which is one of our most common songbirds. They build nests of twigs, grass and mud, but often include human debris such as ribbons. The stick nests of gray catbirds can be found in dense thickets of shrubs or briars and tiny nests in shrubs near water could be from the well-named yellow warbler, which has long since migrated south.
III. Other Mammals
Mammals are often detected by their tracks in wet mud, sand, or snow.
- White-footed mice leave rows of dime-sized or smaller prints with four front and five hind toes; if in snow, their tails may drag and leave a groove between the tracks.
- Raccoon tracks look like handprints around the size of a silver dollar and are often found near water.
- White-tailed deer tracks look like two large parallel teardrops with a dot behind each and are usually found on well-established deer trails in the forest.
Signs of mammals’ food-gathering may also be seen in winter. Raccoons may leave piles of shells from clams and mussels on which they snack near streams and ponds. Meadow voles build runways under the snow and nibble bark below the snow line – once the snow melts you can often see their work on shrubs and saplings. During harsh winters squirrels will often strip large areas of bark off tree branches and trunks for food. Trails through marshes are made by muskrats foraging on vegetation. You can tell a rabbit has been nibbling on low shrubs by the clean, diagonal cut their teeth make, while deer browse may be higher on the plant and the branches look like they have been ripped off, not cut. Deer will strip red cedars of their branches up to about six feet, making them look like evergreen lollipops.
Header photo by Kipi P.