Prey Species ID

Here you'll find handy tips to help you identify 'what the cat dragged in'

Birds

Birds can sometimes be tricky to identify- especially if they are young fledglings!

Although they are fully feathered, fledglings are often brown in colour as a form of camoflage. This may lead to a false ID, as different species can look very similar.

Take a look at the RSPB's bird identifier tool

Remember:

If possible, please take photos of all returned prey

Amphibians and reptiles

Depending on where you live, your cat may bring a variety of amphibians (frogs, toads, and newts) and even reptiles (lizards, snakes, and slow worms) home.

View the identification guides from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) here:

 
 

Mammals

Cats commonly bring more small mammals home than they do birds. This is thought to be because mammals are generally much easier to catch.

We can group small mammals into three main categories: mice (& rats), voles, and shrews. Although there are some exceptions, key features to look out for are:

To download this mammal guide as a PDF, click below:

  • Prominent ears

  • Long tail

  • Large eyes

  • Pointed muzzle

  • Small, pinned back ears

  • Short tail

  • Blunt muzzle

  • Stocky body

  • Small ears

  • Tiny eyes

  • Long snout

  • Short fur

 

Mammals: mice & rats

Image: Duncan Hull

House mouse (Mus musculus)

  • Head and body length: 6-10cm

  • Tail length: 6-10cm

  • Dusty brown/ grey colour, with a pale underbelly

  • Smaller ears and eyes than the wood mouse (relative to body size)

  • Muzzle is quite pointed

Image: Hanna Knutsson

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Also known as the field mouse

  • Head and body length: 6-10cm

  • Tail length: 7-9.5cm

  • Colouration can vary, but is commonly more golden than the house mouse

  • Often has a darker stripe running along its back

  • Pale underbelly, occasionally having a small yellow patch on the chest

  • Larger ears and eyes than the house mouse (relative to body size)

Image: Gareth Christian

Yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis)

Often confused with the wood mouse

  • Head and body length: 9-12cm

  • Tail length: 8-11cm

  • Golden in colour, very similar to the wood mouse

  • Whiter underbelly than the wood mouse, with an unbroken band of yellow across the chest

  • Ears and eyes are larger than those of the wood mouse (relative to body size)

  • Can be found towards the south of England, the West Midlands and eastern parts of Wales

Wood mouse or Yellow-necked mouse?

Wood mice and yellow-necked mice can be difficult to distinguish. The best way is to look at their underside. Yellow-necked mice have a clear, unbroken yellow band across the chest from shoulder to soulder. Wood mice, however, may have a small yellow mark on their chest- or this may be absent all together.

Wood mouse

Small yellow mark

Yellow-necked mouse

Unbroken yellow band

Image: Chris Parker

Harvest mouse (Mycromys minutus)

  • Head and body length: 5-8cm

  • Tail length: 5-8cm

  • Around the size of a human thumb

  • Mid to light brown/golden in colour, similar to the wood mouse

  • Pale underbelly

  • Ears are furry and pinned back. Also ears are relatively smaller than those of other mice

  • Muzzle is not as pointed as other mice

Image: Jean-Jaques Bujot

Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus)

  • Head and body length: 21-29cm

  • Tail length: 17-23cm

  • Similar in appearance to the house mouse ... but around 3x bigger!

  • Dusty brown/ grey colour, with a pale underbelly

  • Quite large ears and eyes

  • Muzzle is pointed

What else could it be?

  • Hazel dormouse- Similar size to the smaller mouse species, with a slightly bushy tail and orange coloured fur

  • Edible dormouse or 'fat dormouse'- Resembles the grey squirrel, with similar grey coat and bushy tail. Smaller than the grey squirrel

  • Grey squirrel- Although not native, perhaps our most familiar squirrel species

  • Red squirrel- Britain's native squirrel species ('Squirrel Nutkin'). A red chestnut coloured coat with tufts of fur at the ends of its ears, smaller and lighter than the grey squirrel

 

Mammals: voles

Image: Hanna Knutsson

Bank vole (Myodes glareolus)

  • Head and body length: 8-12cm

  • Tail length: 3.3-4.8cm

  • Tail is around two thirds the length of the body

  • Smaller eyes, ears and tail than a mouse

  • Stocky build

  • Similar in appearance to the harvest mouse

  • Can be dusty brown/ grey, but typically more of a chestnut brown colour

  • Pale grey underbelly

  • Muzzle is blunt, unlike mice

Image: Rudmer Zwerver

Field vole (Microtus agrestis)

  • Head and body length: 9-11cm

  • Tail length: 2-5cm

  • Tail is around half the length of the body

  • Smaller eyes, ears and tail than a mouse

  • Stocky build

  • Small, furry ears (furrier than the bank vole)

  • Brown or dusty brown/ grey

  • Pale grey underbelly

  • Muzzle is blunt, unlike mice

Bank vole or Field vole?

Field voles have shorter tails and furrier ears than banks voles. A bank vole's tail is two thirds the length of its body, whereas the field vole has a tail just half its body length.

Bank vole

Field vole

Tail is 2/3 the length of the body

Tail is 1/2 the length of the body

What else could it be?

  • Water vole- Much larger than the other voles, similar in size to the brown rat

 

Mammals: shrews

Did you know?

Shrews aren't rodents, unlike mice and voles.

Instead, shrews are

more closely related to moles and hedgehogs, feeding on small invertebrates

Image: Hanna Knutsson

Common shrew (Sorex araneus)

  • Head and body length: 5.5-8.5cm

  • Tail length: 3-5.5cm

  • Very small eyes

  • Elongated snout

  • Small ears, tucked back against head

  • Dark brown in colour, with light brown flanks and a pale grey/white underbelly

  • Tail is around half the length of the
    head & body (50-60%)

Image: Philip Hay

Pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus)

  • Head and body length: 4-6.5cm

  • Tail length: 3-4.5cm

  • Smaller than the common shrew

  • Very small eyes

  • Elongated snout

  • Small ears, tucked back against head

  • Dark brown in colour, with a pale grey/white underbelly

  • Tail is longer than that of the common shrew, relative to body size (around 65-80% the length of the head & body)

Common shrew or Pygmy shrew?

Although you will generally notice a size difference between the two, large adult pygmy shrews can be similar in size to young common shrews. In a similar way to voles, an easy method of identifying shrew species is by the length of the tail. The common shrew tail is between 50 and 60% the length of the head and body. The tail of the pygmy shrew is proportionally larger, measuring between 65 and 80% the length of the head and body.

Common shrew

Pygmy shrew

50-60%

65-80%

Tail is 50-60% the length of the head and body

Tail is 65-80% the length of the head and body

What else could it be?

  • Water shrew- slightly larger than common shrew and very dark in colour (almost black)

  • Mole- Larger than shrews with much smaller eyes and large, clawed forelimbs

 

Mammals- bats

The UK is home to 17 bat species, but don't worry- we're not going to ask you to ID them! Bats can be incredibly difficult to identify sometimes, but please do take a photo for us to take a look at.

Injuries caused by cats are quite common, often affecting their wings.

If you find an injured bat, please call the Bat Helpline on 0345 1300 228

The Bat Helpline operator will give you further guidance. If it is necessary to handle the bat, please wear gloves! You can find basic bat care guidelines here.

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