Offal Wildlife Watching Project

U of MN Extension graphic

April 2023

By Amy Rager, Extension Educator, Minnesota Master Naturalist

Deer hunting in Minnesota has a long history and for many families is a sacred tradition. Last year in Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources reported that over 170,000 white-tailed deer were harvested. Faculty in the Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Department at the University of Minnesota, Joseph Bump and post doctoral associate Ellen Candler, with the help of Extension Educator Amy Rager are studying which nearby wildlife species benefit from gut piles.  

When the hunter field dresses the deer and leaves behind the offal (gut pile), it attracts many species to the pile for a quick easy meal. These interactions are being documented using game cameras. This method of capturing images is called camera trapping and is a way for scientists to analyze what species are interacting with the gut piles. Some come to feed on the offal itself, some are attracted to those species feeding on the piles, and others are also finding and consuming nearby resources, like rodents.

The variety of species captured varies from rodents, to birds and other mammals. The images are uploaded to the Zooniverse Platform, where volunteers from around the world can participate in the citizen science project and help identify the visitors to the gut piles. Each image is viewed by 10 different people to help with accuracy in identification, and is then being analyzed by faculty at the University. New images from 2022 will be uploaded soon to the Zooniverse and you are invited to participate in this citizen science project.