How to Identify Animal Tracks in the Snow

How to Identify Animal Tracks in the Snow
Across the United States, in areas with frequent snowfall, you can go into your backyard or the surrounding countryside and look for the tracks left by animals. You can identify the animal by its tracks if you can clearly see the number of toes in the track, the size of the track and whether the animal left claw marks.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Purchase, or check out from the library, a field guide to animal tracks to aid in identifying tracks. These guides can be purchased in book stores or online. One such guide is the "Peterson's Field Guide to Animal Tracks" by Olaus J. Murie and Mark Elbroch.

These guides have pictures and drawings of animal tracks along with a description of the track and the range of the animal across the U.S.
Step 2
Familiarize yourself with the kinds of animals that live in the region where you live. This narrows down the creatures that could have produced a track. For example, if you have come to the conclusion that a track belongs to some type of larger cat and there are no cougars living in your state then the possibilities are that the tracks were made by either a lynx or a bobcat.
Step 3
Take note of the location of the tracks, an excellent indicator of what may have made them. Animal tracks found by the water's edge are most likely made by species that live in or around the water such as muskrats, mink, raccoons and beavers. Tracks found in pine forests at the base of trees most likely come from some type of squirrel that feeds on the seeds of pine cones like the gray squirrel or the red squirrel.
Step 4
Look at the imprint made by the claws, if any, which are a distinguishing difference between tracks of the cat family from those of the dog family. Cats will leave no claw prints because they have retractable claws while dogs usually do leave some imprint of their claws. Also, the heel pad from which the toe imprints radiate on a dog has just a single lobe on its front edge as opposed to a double lobe on a cat. Cats and dogs both have four toes on the front foot and the hind foot.
Step 5
Look at the shape of the track. Members of the deer family leave two-toed kinds of tracks that have a semi-circle shape, aligned side by side. Animals such as elk, mule deer, moose, white-tailed deer and caribou have tracks of this nature.
Step 6
Count the number of toes and check the size of the track. A track with five toes that are on the hind foot and four on the front were made by some sort of rodent. You can further categorize the animal by the size of the track; tiny tracks will belong to mice, voles or chipmunks while larger tracks of this type could be a large rodent like a beaver or muskrat.
Step 7
Classify tracks with five toes on both the back and front feet as belonging to an animal that belongs to the family of weasels. These could be made by skunks, badgers, minks or otters---all types of weasels. Bears, opossums and raccoons will also leave tracks like these.

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