January 2024 Natural Mystery Answered

Last month’s Natural Mystery proved challenging. Or perhaps you have your own, more scatological adjective to describe it. We got correct answers for the dark oval pellets the light colored "cigarette butts", but no correct responses for the amorphous deposit that topped of this pile of scats.

These are two different forms of grouse droppings deposited on top of whitetail deer scat.

At the bottom of this scat collection is a small pile of deer pellets. The pellets are dark brown, and roughly oval with a slight nipple on one. Some pellets also show a slightly dimple on the opposite end. They measure roughly 1/2” long and 5/16” in diameter. This may be the most common, or at least the most recognizable, form of deer scat.

On top of the deer scat are two different forms of ruffed grouse scat. The individual, fibrous droppings are the more familiar form, and are similar to those of other game birds. The individual droppings visible in this photo measure about 3/4” to 1” (1.8 – 2.5 cm) in length, a little less than 3/8” (0.75 cm) in diameter, and slightly curved. They are visibly fibrous, tan in color, and dusted with white uric acid. They are sometimes described as resembling a pile of cigarette butts.

On top of these intestinal droppings is grouse cecal scat. This more liquid excretion comes from the cecum, near the junction of the large and small intensities, where some components of the diet undergo fermentation as part of the digestive process. Bernd Heinrich (2017) reported that the ruffed grouse he studied deposited cecal scat just before or just after leaving their night roosts or dens. He never found cecal scat at daytime roosts. Elbroch (2001) notes that cecal scat is deposited after the intestinal scat, and commonly seen on top if it as seen in our photo. He also notes that it is common to find cecal scat by itself.

Elbroch M. 2001. Bird tracks & sign: A guide to North American species. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Heinrich B. 2017. Winter strategies of ruffed grouse in a mixed northern forest. Northeast Nat. 24(sp7):B55–B71. doi:10.1656/045.024.s708.

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