As the Gruffalo celebrates 15 years, we took a walk in our own forests, to see which of the animals in the book we could find. With help from our Forest Rangers we pieced together some clues.
Little Brown Mouse
The main character in the story, apart from the Gruffalo of course, is the clever mouse. A largely nocturnal creature, you will be lucky if you see a wood mouse. What you might spot is the entrance to his underground burrow, or a tiny nest of moss and leaves in a hollow tree trunk.
It is little wonder that our hero has to think on his feet. He is one of the favourite meals of all the animals he meets! His own cuisine of choice is berries, seeds, fungi, buds, bugs and of course nuts. You can tell if wood mice are in residence by looking at the empty shells of hazelnuts on the forest floor. If they have roughly circular holes gnawed into them, with the teeth marks all pointing downwards, you can be sure you’re in the mouse’s dining room.
A woodmouse at Deerpark
The two main snakes you might find in British woodlands are the grass snake and the poisonous Adder.
Grass snakes can reach up to 6ft in length, but are more commonly half that length, and tend to be an olive green colour with a yellow and black collar. Great swimmers, grass snakes are often found near water, where they feed on frogs, toads and fish – keep an eye open by the pond at Deerpark. If you meet one, it will be far more scared of you than you will of it, and it will quickly slither away.
The adder is less benign and also less shy, which is why it is more commonly sighted. You will recognise it by its characteristic zigzag markings and a dark coloured V on its head. Our poor mouse is the perfect meal for an adder, along with voles and even ground nesting birds. They are not particularly aggressive but will bite if they are disturbed, so best to let them know you are friends with a Gruffalo and walk on.
We found a snake!
Owl Ice Cream
The tawny owl is one of the most common owls in Britain. About 39cm long, it has large brown eyes, with its face framed by a ring of dark feathers. A tawny owl knows its territory well and a passing mouse will be quickly spotted. The velvety pile and fine fringe on its feathers makes it a silent predator as it swoops in for the kill.
Holes in trees are a good place to watch for owls to appear. They often take over old crows’ nests, and squirrel dreys. Look around the base of the tree for owl pellets. These small pellets are the undigested remains of the food they have eaten and then regurgitated and are usually made up of small animal (mouse sized!) bones and gristle.
Can you spot the owl? Captured on camera recently at Blackwood Forest
Perhaps the most familiar of the Gruffalo animals, foxes are instantly recognisable. Their sharp pointy ears and forward facing eyes makes them clever predators. They are quick to spot moving objects but do not see stationary objects so well; although they must be reasonably good or they would be bumping into every tree! They are more likely to hear our mouse than see him.
Track the rather dainty paw prints of the fox and listen for a deep bark. AJ, the Forest Ranger at Keldy has honed his fox impersonation skills and will bark back. So if you are staying at Keldy, make sure it’s not AJ you can hear!
Caught on camera: a fox spotted on the Night Vision Walk at Deerpark
Out hunting with the Forest Rangers
No one knows more about forest life than our Forest Rangers, who spend most of their working days out there. There are Forest Ranger activities at all our locations during the day and in the evening. And of course, this spring and summer there are a whole host of additional Gruffalo activities too.
The mouse, owl and fox are nocturnal animals and the best way to spot them is on the Forest Ranger Dusk Watch and Night Vision walks. The Forest Ranger will help you to spot the signs, listen for sounds and hopefully see the creatures themselves. But beware the big animal with orange eyes, a tongue that’s black, and purple prickles all over his back…
Did you Know?
- Unlike most reptiles, adders do not lay eggs. Baby snakes are born about the size of an earthworm, but a perfect miniature of the adult snake.
- Tawny owls 'too-wit too-woo' call is actually a duet between the male and female. The female makes the 'too-wit' sound and the male answers with 'too-woo'.