There are more animals that share our neighborhoods than most of us realize. Some people say there are four S words which teach how to be more aware of the creatures around us.
The first S is for sight. Look around you. Do you see birds in trees? Do you see birds coming to bird feeders? What do they look like? What are they doing? Look out the window if you are riding on a school bus or in a car. Look up in trees for squirrels and in fields for deer. You might be surprised by how many animals you will see if you pay attention. Still, a lot of animals are good at hiding or come out only at night.
The second S is for sound. How many different animal sounds can you hear in your neighborhood? Listen for dogs barking and other animal sounds. Birds are easy to find by the sounds they make. You can even learn to tell different kinds of birds apart by their songs and calls. Visit a website and learn some bird songs. Cardinals and chickadees are good ones to start with because they start singing in late winter.
The next S is for smell. A lot of students have smelled a skunk by the side of the road. You can also use your nose to find out something about the animal living in a hole in the ground. If the hole smells like dirt, the animal living there is probably a plant eater. If the hole smells at all like garbage, the animal eats meat at least sometimes.
The last S is for sign. Signs are the foot prints, shed feathers, nests, bits of chewed food, and other clues left by animals. These can help you know what animals have been around and what they have been doing. Signs are the most complicated of the S's.
Tracks are one of the easiest signs to look for in winter if there is snow on the ground. See if you can find any animal tracks. Can you follow them? Where do they go? Where did they come from? What did the animal do? Can you figure out who made them?
What pattern do the tracks make? Are they in pairs? If they are, the animal was hopping along. Animals like rabbits and squirrels hop or gallop. Are the tracks one by one? These were made by a walker like a dog, a cat, or a skunk.
If snow is not very deep, you can look for details. Can you count the number of toes in the track? Can you see any toenail or claw marks? These can help you find out what kind of animal made the track.
So go out and pay attention to the four S's. You might find you have some animals living right next door.
There are some good books and websites about animal tracks. One, called Animals and Their Tracks, has drawings of common animal tracks. Try a track quiz so you are ready to go looking at real tracks.