#14 Backyard Spy

10 Points

Find out what critters and creatures have been hanging around your backyard wilderness area by making your own tracking device: What are ya waiting for: get tracking!


Read the instructions

See also


What to do

Your mission is:

Make a tracking tunnel and use it to detect wildlife in your backyard or park. Check out the notes for the tool list you need (above) and get snooping!




Got your tools? (See notes above). Let's go backyard spying: cut your corflute or cardbord into approx 80cm x 50cm rectangle and fold long-ways so it forms a three or four sided tunnel. Tape it together.

You can also make a tunnel out of two plastic milk bottles with the ends cut off and slid together, but you’ll need to cover it in dark wrap e.g. a black plastic rubbish bag. 

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Cover the entire bottom of the tunnel with a sheet of clean white paper.

(This is where the critter will leave its footprints.)



Give your new tunnel a personal design or tag: your own animal detective or backyard spy logo would look mean. Mouse crib yo!

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For rats, mice, hedgehogs and weta: peanut butter or Nutella is a great lure. Lizards (aka mokomoko) like banana, pears and honey. Mustelids (e.g. stoats) enjoy a bit of chicken neck or raw meat. 

Place your lure on a leaf or in a milk bottle cap.

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Take your lure and place it in the middle of the pad (or get mucky and simply smear the lure over the ink – just don’t go hugging your mum in a good dress afterwards!).

The animal comes in one end looking for the lure, then gets its feet marked on the ink pad and leaves inky prints behind on your white paper.

(If you don’t have an ink pad, whip one up out of a strip of rag or sponge soaked in food dye, and place on an ice cream container lid cut to size.)

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Lay out the tunnel where you reckon the beasties will come out at night.

Most animals prefer to move along fence lines, under trees and around edges of ponds and streams. Check out the clues: little poos, footprints, plant damage, medium poos, fur, feathers, big poos, and … tails! (skinks drop their tails as a defence mechanism).

You could use a u-shaped piece of wire to peg the tunnel in place, or go stealth-mode by covering it with dirt, leaves or sticks so it looks like a natural entrance. 



Check the papers every few days and see what backyard bandits have been taking a liking to your tunnel by looking at the tracks they’ve left behind. 

Your ink pad is going to catch a critter red-handed (or blue-footed like this baby gecko)! 

You can ID the tracks at Pest Detective or use the citizen science site Nature Watch with your parent’s help. Photo credit: Mike Bowie

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Take a pic of the results and send it our way to get your wild eyes to the next level! If there's no pic it didn't happen.

And send in a pic of your personalized designs/tags on the outside of the tunnel.

What do you think left these prints? Clue: it's name rhymes with feta.

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Wanna take it to the next level? Get together with your mates and neighbours and ID pests that threaten our native taonga (treasure) in your hood.

Then you can move up from pest detective to pest terminator. Check out some traps so you can build your own backyard Death Star for invasive predators and click the inspiration tab for the ways some cool kids are keeping Kepler kiwis ka pai! O-K! 



Leave it out for a few nights to work its magic. All good if you don’t have a backyard: it works just as well at the park. 

If no beasts turn up at your tunnel after a day or two, try finding a better spot for it. Try two tunnels facing off in different places. 

What's happening?


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– Some paw prints of common pests in NZ

Did an animal suspect take your bait and leave some mysterious prints? Think about the footprints in your tracking tunnel: how wide or narrow, or long are they? Do they have claws or not? Think about your backyard: does it have lots of trees close by, is it wet in winter? Why would an animal need claws or narrow feet?

What do you reckon your footprint would look like in a you-sized tracking tunnel. (And what sort of food would tempt you to come in?)


Animals have different shaped feet, (and bodies, teeth, fur, ears and noses). Scientists call these features ‘adaptations’ that have evolved to help them survive. 

What other critter clues were left behind? A poop or a tail? Note that the secret to identify weta from other animals (e.g. rat) is the round ends of the poo. Rat poo (which can look similar) is tapered at each end, weta have rounded poo with parallel sides like the ones shown.  

Did you know that the giant weta and the giraffe have poops that are around the same size!!

Either the giraffe needs to up its poo game or the weta is punching well above its weight!

Tree weta poo 0803 G.Gibbs

– Giraffe or weta?  Image (c)George Gibbs


Just like you, backyard beasties have everyday habits and regular routes (for example: rats often follow streams). Have a think about how you get to and from school or sports practice. Where do YOU score your kai? Now imagine you’re a critter and what your routine might be like. Where do you find your food? Do you head down to the local compost for Friday night takeaways?

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– I hear carrots make you see in the dark...


Dead stoat trapped in Fiordland National Park2

– A stoat is a mini but mighty killing machine  

Introduced pests came from places very different to Aotearoa. In the natural habitat of the stoat it was much colder and they had to keep an eye out for heaps of other predators on their tail: they had to hunt and breed fast-as- or they’d become fast food themselves!

When stoats got to NZ, many of our native animals didn't have adaptations to protect themselves from these new up-tempo killing machines. 


It’s useful to know what beasties are out and about, so we can get rid of them if we have to. For example, if 6 out of 10 tunnel cards show rat or stoat footprints, this gives a marker of 60% for pest 'density' in that area.

So if we’re trying to get rid of those pests, we can put out traps (like this Goodnature A24), then use our tunnels to check again later to see if it’s working or not: it’s an uber-important tool for pest control. 

Tracking tunnels, just like yours, are used by rangers to keep tabs on trouble in our parks and reserves. 


– Stoat's are the main predator of kiwi


Hedgehogs are super cute right? What harm could they do (apart from stabbing your foot in a million places if you accidentally step on one)?

Well, hedgehogs are actually introduced pests who have come along and eaten a whole bunch of our weta, skinks, frogs (like in this video) and native bird eggs. Not very cute at all.


Did you know: a group of rats is called a 'mischief' and they've certainly caused of a lot of trouble for NZ natives ... given what smarty pants mischief I get up to, what do reckon a group of kea should be called?



If there’s something dodgy in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna call? Ngahere Toa of Bay Bush Action! Ka pai dudes!



– Stoatally cool kiwi kids (c)Barry Harcourt

By finding out what pests are in your back yard, you are taking the first step towards protecting the native animals that also share it. And then you can help get rid of them! Check out these kool Kiwi kids down the other end of Aotearoa: kicking the butt of predators to help Kepler kiwi.

Be a backyard ranger

Think about what actions you can take to bust the pests and bring more native animals into your own backyard. You could convince your parents to get a rat trap (like this Goodnature A24 trap).

Compete with your mates to see who can nab the most invasive pests – include all your neighbour’s yards too and make your block into a mini wildlife sanctuary.

The winner gets live-in lizards, weta and tui!

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– Junior stoat buster! Photo: Hayley Sutton


Introduced pests threaten the native species that are ‘taonga’ (treasure) in Aotearoa. If we had less pests, we’d have more spectacularly unique animals, smarty-pants like me: the world's only mountain parrot!

- Kevin the Kea


If you’re lucky you might’ve gotten some weta tracks on your tunnel. Weta – aka the demon grasshopper – are nocturnal (active in the night) flightless insects, like a big cricket with spiny legs and they’re only found in New Zealand …

The giant weta (‘wetapunga’ – the god of ugly things!) is the world’s heaviest insect: 70g = 3x the size of a mouse! 


If you find some new native mates (like skinks or weta) you could hook them up by building them a sweet new crib! Build a weta hotel or help our skinks on the brink by making a rock garden or hut to keep them safe and dry. Check out this video for the The Block – weta and mokomoko edition.

What other members have done:

#14 Backyard Spy

Birds eye view

BirdPrincess 230
By BirdPrincess

Birds eye view

20200412 125505.19
I climbed the tree in out garden and looked down to get a birds eye view. I spotted our pets and some sparrows and remembered where I have seen bugs, birds and other wildlife. Then I made a model!
#14 Backyard Spy

weta foot-prints!

weta foot-prints!

20200413 164943.1
wolf eye
I found out that my tunnel was a tourist attraction.
#14 Backyard Spy

Backyard Spy

Backyard Spy

IMG 4675.17
Managed to get snail tracks and a slug!
#14 Backyard Spy

Mice tracks!!

DSC 0049.8
wildnzboy kiwi 90
By wildnzboy kiwi

Mice tracks!!

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wildnzboy kiwi
I made the tracking tunnel with a plastic bottle. I put it in my native bush. The second day I found some mice tracks.
#14 Backyard Spy

Tracking tunnel

Tracking tunnel

science guy
We found out there are mice in the garden.
#14 Backyard Spy

tracking tunnel

michelle_roger 10
By michelle_roger

tracking tunnel

SAM 0786
we did not get any tracks but it was fun anyway
#14 Backyard Spy

Tracking tunnel team time!

Tracking tunnel team time!

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me and my friend made this tracking tunnel over a few weeks.
#14 Backyard Spy

Dylan and Joe Tracking Tunnel With thumbs up

lebron james 14.1
joeisawesome 10
By joeisawesome

Dylan and Joe Tracking Tunnel With thumbs up

lebron james 14.1
so we got this worksheet and then we had to finish it and then we had to make it and then we had to draw on it and then we put bait in it and then we put it out.
#14 Backyard Spy

The birthday tunnel

The birthday tunnel

Screenshot 2017 06 07 at 9.52.06 AM
IMG 2217.1
This mission was part of our maths sessions and we enjoyed taking part of this mission and having such a fun thing to do in maths time. We hope whoever gets to do this mission will have heaps of fun.
#14 Backyard Spy

tracking tunnel discovery's!

tracking tunnel discovery's!

we think we got some mice and snail tracks
#14 Backyard Spy

WildGuys track some stuff

WildGuys track some stuff

we made this backyard spy through school we placed it in our play ground.
#14 Backyard Spy

Free peanut butter!

Free peanut butter!

SAM 1300
We made our tracking tunnel out of core flute. The bait we used was first peanut butter (no results) then dried rabbit (no results).