Animal Tracking

Animal Tracks Gallery

A mink crosses the tracks of a shrew.

A mink crosses the tracks of a shrew.

(photo contributed by Abbey Key, laughingpixie@comcast.com)

Reader, Linda Spielman, of Cayuga Trackers, says: You have misidentified the tracks of the larger animal in the photo above. The prints are oval with four toes and probably a coyote. The reason one side leads the other is that the critter is doing a side trot, a kind of trot where the rear feet consistently hit ahead of and to one side of the front feet.

Crow Wing prints in the snow. The birds must have been flying low, but did not land.

Crow wing prints in the snow. The bird must have been flying low, but did not land.

Crow body imprint of wing, tail and tracks in snow.

Crow body imprint of wing, tail and tracks in snow.

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Opossum tracks showing the tail drag

Mouse Tracks with tail drag

Mouse Tracks with tail drag

 

Otter tracks, showing body drag.

Otter tracks, showing body drag.

Heron tracks in the mud.

Heron tracks in the mud.

Muskrat tracks

Muskrat tracks

 Mink Tracks One foot is slightly ahead of another

Mink Tracks
One foot is slightly ahead of another

What is the Story in the Snow? On the far left side is the imprint of a bird wing. The tracks that make the pattern looked like a shrew.

What is the Story in the Snow?
On the far left side is the imprint of a bird wing. The tracks that make the pattern looked like a shrew.

 Animal Tracking Tutorial

What is the best way to find out what type of animals live in your neighborhood? How can you find out what type of animals crossed the trail or were around your home in the night? In winter, studying animal tracks will give you a lot of information about who is active in your area. The best snow depth to read animal tracks is 1-4 inches. When there is more snow, it is difficult to see the patterns that each animal leaves. Tracking is all about looking at patterns and knowing where an animal is most likely to be found.

Download the Animal Tracks Activity. Answer the questions using the text below.   Click here for the PDF.

There are three basic groups of track patterns to learn.

Hoppers
Hoppers make a clump of four tracks in the snow, a space, then another clump of tracks. The large tracks are the hind feet (H) and the small tracks are the front feet (F)Walkers – “big foot” and “little foot”
In identifying the three species below, the important things to look for is the size of the track and the position of the front foot and the hind foot. Also, the beaver and muskrat are only found in wetland areas, whereas raccoons are found in many different habitats     including wetlands.

RaccoonTracks3

Raccoon Tracks

Straight-line walkers

Both deer and fox step with the hind foot falling exactly in the track of the front foot. Thus, the pattern in the snow appears that the animals are two-legged. This behavior is called “registering”and it helps the animal to conserve energy when walking in deep snow.

FoxTracks

Fox Tracks

Deer Tracks

Deer Tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After you determine whether it is a hopper, straight line walker, or a “big foot-little foot”. Look at the pattern closely and notice how many inches there are between tracks or clumps of tracks. Also, think about the habitat you are seeing the tracks. Some animals are restricted to certain habitats (ie beaver, mink, and muskrat are found in wetlands).

Squirrel tracks

Rabbit Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

Squirrel tracks often end at the base of a tree. Gray squirrels have 1-3 feet between clumps of tracks. Red squirrels have 1-2 feet between clumps. Note that the smaller front feet (F) on  the squirrel are together while the rabbit has one of the front feet ahead of the other. The pattern of squirrels and rabbits is confusing, since  the larger hind foot shows up in front. However both of these animals are hoppers, and the front feet go down and then larger hind hop over the front feet.

Fox tracks

Dog tracks

Foxes leave a neat pattern in the snow because the hind foot steps in the front foot track (registering). Registering helps a fox to conserve energy, when walking in deep snow. Its cousin, the dog, does not “register”, and leaves a much   sloppier tracking pattern in the snow.

Deer also register, with the hind foot walking in the front foot track. Also, a deer hoof is easy to see when the snow is packed, and they usually drag their hooves. However, in deep snow, the hooves are more spread out and the dew claw is visible in the back of the track.

 

Do you want to keep a record of the animal tracks you have seen in your neighborhood? Download a full-sized PDF and see what you can find on your own!

Click here: Animal Tracks Activity

 

 

13 Responses to Animal Tracking

  1. Judy says:

    I have seen prints like a rabbit, but haven’t seen any rabbits around. I saw dirt dug up near the foundation. Could it have been a ground hog?

  2. Lawrence Wade says:

    If you saw the digging in the past 3 months, it is not a groundhog. the digging could be squirrels. Can you send me a photo of the hole? larrywade16@gmail.com

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you. This is great information laid out with simple logic. Now I can tell which animals are generating so much excitement in my dog.

  4. judy stone says:

    We have some large prints, straight line with “M” or “W” at one end with a large oblong area at one end. This is as large as a human footprint; however, strides are 3-4 feet apart. Would you have any idea what this is? We live by woods and there are many animals in the area. This is the first time I’ve seen this print.

  5. Steve Sullivan says:

    The wing tracks are special winter markings. I was stumped whem in saw no feet marks. A low flyer as your pictures reference. Thanks

  6. Becca says:

    ThAnKs SoOoOoOo MuCh FoR ThiS pAgE!!!!! With your “map” & the FIRST “GOOD” snow of the season, I’ve been able to identify FOX tracks ((the very same day I saw a live fox for the first time in my life….although that was down the road and NOT where I saw the tracks in my own yard)) AND raccoon tracks both in the same day ((we also had deer, rabbit & squirrel tracks, but I already knew what those were))!!!!! You’ve been a HUUUUUUUGE HELP!!!

  7. Holly says:

    I have been trying to find out what animal left tracks in my backyard that begin with what looks like a slight depression in the snow, about 30 feet of tracks and then another slight depression in the snow. That’s it! No entry or exit. I thought it had to be a bird but there are no wing prints and the paw prints are about 2 inches in diameter. That would have to be a big bird, leaving a bigger “entry and exit” indentation. There was no burrowing into the snow at either end. The snow is about 2 feet deep.
    Any ideas? I have a photo if it helps anyone.
    Thanks very much.

  8. patricia says:

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    These markings are a little thicker single tracks with one in back and two in front, what is this in my yard, snow in he Eastern part of Allegheny County PA .

  9. Ann Minner says:

    I found some tracks all over my yard that resemble wagon wheel tracks, except much smaller. They are all in sand about an inch wide and about a half inch deep. My husband and I saw these tracks in the first part of March in the Central part of New Mexico. Every so often this animal has dug under a fence. I see no paw prints-just these curios tracks. What are they?

  10. Sandra says:

    Awesome website with wonderful, recognizable information. Very informative. Excellent and great photographs and very beautifully done. Wonderful. Thank you

  11. Sandra says:

    What a useful, wonderful website. The photographs are tremendous and the tracks very recognizable and understandable. A beautiful resource. Awesome!

  12. Jennifer says:

    Great info, thanks so much. I am trying to identify tracks that I think are fisher am wondering if you have any tips or images that might help?

  13. Donna Blum says:

    Thank you for your clear and logical explanation of tracks. I was able to identify a mystery snow visitor as a shrew not a mouse!

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