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Action 1: Investigate

Explore and understand the ecosystem around you.

The first and best thing to do to help your local environment is to learn more about it! So, to begin your Embrace the Wild project, Action 1 is to investigate. Start off by looking into your local space to uncover the habitats, microhabitats, animals and plants that live there - from the underside of a mossy log in a forest, to a tree in a shared park or a rock pool on the beach.

In this first section of Embrace the Wild you’ll discover how to examine your local environment to witness the various microhabitats that exist there. You’ll also learn how to use animal clues like tracks, droppings, burrows and nests to discover more about your non-human neighbours. We’ll share the sounds to listen for, plus the food leftovers to keep watch for, so you can deduce which furry, feathered, scaly and slimy friends you share your environment with.


Habitats are the natural environment that provide the requirements for a living thing to feed, shelter and reproduce. Habitats differ enormously depending on the geographic location. They can be broadly identified as being a woodland, rainforest, wetland, heathland, alpine area, grassland or desert, for example, but essentially, all of these are made up of many smaller microhabitats that offer very slight variation in conditions - particularly temperature, light, or air. 

Explore the image gallery below to see examples of microhabitats.

Generally speaking, the more microhabitats that are available, the greater diversity of life an environment can support! Complex ecosystems such as a tropical rainforest, which foster many microhabitats, allow for a larger diversity of living things to coexist in harmony. This is because different species of plant, animal and fungi often find ‘niches’ in microhabitats. This means they develop complex food chains, plus specialised adaptations, that allow them to thrive.

Animal Clues 

The tracks and traces that an animal leaves behind can help you to find out what kind of wildlife live in your area. 


Animal tracks are best spotted in bare earth including on riverbanks, dry creek beds and dirt paths. In your own backyard you could try creating a footprint trap by placing a tray of sand or raking an area of smooth dirt where animals may be active. Checking the trap after a few days may reveal footprints that you can use to identify the visitor.  Keep in mind that identifying animals using their prints or tracks can be tricky. It is rare that you will find a perfect track. More often you will find partial prints that will look different depending on whether they are in wet mud, sand, snow, or hard dirt. 

3 toed footprints in the sand
             Animal footprints    
           Photo Abbie Mitchell  

Scats and Droppings

Scat is a word commonly used to describe any kind of dung, dropping or poo from an animal. Some animals use their scats to mark their territories, in which case you may find them on display on rocks or logs. You will also find scats in areas where animals spend a lot of time, such as near nests or burrows and along creek banks. 

Scats can tell us much about the animal that made them, such as the species or size of the animal. We can also tell what foods make up an animal’s diet. The freshness of the scat gives a hint about how recently the animal visited the area. While you may need an identification key to find out the species, it is usually easy to tell whether the animal was a carnivore, herbivore, omnivore or insectivore.   

As carnivores predominantly eat meat, their scats may have a strong smell. You may see traces of animal remains including bones, feathers or hair. In general, these scats are likely to be cylindrical and pointed. 

Herbivorous animals eat plant materials so their scats tend to be produced in larger quantities and have a greenish colour to them. Using a stick, break apart the scat to get a better clue. Herbivore scats are more fibrous. You may be able to see partially digested leaves, grass, seeds, or berries.

Omnivorous animals eat a combination of both plant and animal material, so their scats will contain a combination of plant fibres and animal parts, including eggshells and bones.

Because insects are the primary source of an insectivore’s diet their scats contain shiny remains of insect bodies and wings. In general, insectivore scats can be more easily broken than other scats and may also contain large amounts of soil or wood fibres. 

bright blue spots in the brown scats amongst the leaves
     Scat with blueberry ash berries.
           Photo Abbie Mitchell  

Homes and Habitats

Just like humans, animals need safe, warm and dry places to sleep. Some animals live in permanent homes throughout the whole year, while other animals have numerous shelters which they travel between. While some homes are built by the animals that use them, many rely on natural structures such as tree hollows or caves. Others have adapted to use human-made shelters to survive.

In some cases it is obvious what kind of animal is using a particular shelter. For example, bird nests are easy to identify, but most of the time you will have to use your animal detective skills to determine the occupant. Keep an eye out for feathers, fur, skin, scats, tracks and leftover food items. These will help you understand whether a shelter might be occupied by a bird, reptile, insect or mammal. 

Below are some places where animals may set up home.

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Animals can be masters of disguise, so it is far more likely that you will hear an animal than see it! Many species can be identified by their unique sounds or calls. These noises help animals communicate with one another.

While some people are skilled at identifying animals by their calls or sounds in situ, an alternative is to record a call on a phone for identification later. Many online resources and phone apps are available that can help you identify species based on your recordings – see Helpful Links for details. 

Listen to the calls of several different species of Cicadas. Do you think you could identify them?

Some animals even leave clues by making sounds when they move about. Think flapping of wings, buzzing of a bee, thumping of a kangaroo through the bush or a lizard scurrying through leaves. 

Other Traces

Animals often leave behind clues where they have been feeding. Chewed leaves, partially eaten fruits, and the remains of prey animals are classic examples. Field guides and online resources can provide traces to look out for. Remember that animals tend to hide from humans so look under shrubs, beneath trees and behind buildings for clues.

Practice your spotting skills here! All images by Abbie Mitchell.

Activities - Investigate

1. Habitat Mapping

                Image: Aaron Burton on Snapstock

Maps are a great way to identify habitat in your local area. Follow these easy steps on the Habitat Mapping activity sheet to make a map of a local area or see page 20 of the Embrace the Wild book for more detail.

2. Wildlife Detective

Use the habitat map you created to explore your area for animals and their habitats. Click on the Wildlife Detective activity sheet to find out how or visit page 26 of the Embrace the Wild book for more detailed information.

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