How to Identify Animal Tracks in Snow

How to Identify Animal Tracks in SnowIn North America, after a tangible snowfall it is possible to take a walk in the forests, fields and swamps and discover animal tracks. If you have a field guide to animal tracks or the ability to take extensive notes about the ones you encounter you will be able to identify these prints. It is important to focus on certain aspects of a track, which will allow you to make a positive identification when referencing your guide.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

How to Identify Animal Tracks in Snow

Things You’ll Need:
  • Field guide to animal tracks
  • Notebook
  • Pencil
Step 1
Be aware of where you find animal tracks, as the habitat of the animal often helps identify it. Tracks left along the banks of streams and rivers or in swamps and marshes often indicate activity by animals that live around water, such as mink, muskrat or beavers. Categorize tracks by habitat, dividing habitats into water, forest, fields, farmlands and so on.
Step 2
Gain a strong knowledge of what types of animals live where you do, as well as which creatures hibernate during winter months and eliminate them as possibilities. Guide books include range maps that show where in North America the animal frequents, helping to eliminate some species that you suspect may have left the track in the snow.
Step 3
Remember that deer tracks are two-toed imprints side by side, so tracks like this probably belong to elk, moose, mule deer or white-tailed deer. Utilize your guide book to identify the specific deer.
Step 4
Keep in mind that although cats and dogs have four toes on each foot, canines typically leave behind claw marks while felines do not, as cats have retractable claws and don't normally walk with them deployed. There are subtle differences in the shape of the heel pads of dogs versus cats, with dogs leaving single-lobed imprints and cats leaving double-lobed ones.
Step 5
Any animals in the weasel family make tracks with five toes on front and back feet. Bears do this, as well, but obviously are larger, while raccoons and opossums also have five toes on all their feet.
Step 6
Rodents have five toes on their hind feet but just four on the front. The rodent family encompasses animals as tiny as mice and as large as beavers, so the size of the track is a valuable clue in identifying the living thing that left it.

Tips & Warnings

One of the premiere guides to animal tracks is "Peterson's Field Guide: Animal Tracks," a book co-written by Mark Elbroch and Olaus J. Murie.

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