Identifying Animal Tracks in the Snow

Identifying Animal Tracks in the Snow
Many times finding a recognizable set of animal tracks is problematic. While you may discover a few tracks near streams, lakes and ponds in the mud, they are often not easy to follow. Normally where the mud ends the tracks do, too. Tracks found in the woods in sand or soft soil are often not clear enough to identify. This makes snow by far the best medium in which to search for and identify animal tracks.


Difficulty: Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Field guide to animal tracks Camera Notebook and pencil
  • Field guide to animal tracks
  • Camera
  • Notebook and pencil
Step 1
Obtain a field guide to the animals in your areas and their tracks. Make sure the guide comes with comprehensive range maps that tell you if an animal is likely to live in your region of the United States. Study the habitat of these animals so you can prepare yourself as to which creatures you may encounter in specific areas such as woodlands, swamps and open fields.
Step 2
Search for tracks after the first light snowfall of the year if possible. Heavy snows often keep animal activity to a minimum, but a light coating of snow will not interfere with an animal's daily routines. Lesser depths of snow also allow an animal to leave higher-quality tracks. However, do not expect many tracks to resemble those on your guides. As animals walk, they do not always leave perfect prints behind, and their movements can cause tracks to become smeared and imperfect.
Step 3
Count the number of toes in the tracks you discover. Remember that hoofed mammals such as deer will leave two-toed imprints. Members of the rodent family have five toes on the back feet but four on the front ones. Felines and canines both have four toes on each foot, but canine tracks frequently show claw marks coming from the toes while cat prints do not. Weasels, raccoons, opossums and bears have five toes on each foot. Once you have ascertained the number of toes in a track, you can downsize your search within your guide to specific families of animals.
Step 4
Determine an animal's identity by the size of its tracks. A larger rodent like a beaver will leave a much more prominent track than a field mouse. The size of the track allows you to use the process of elimination to narrow down the potential track-maker.
Step 5
Try to follow the tracks forward and backward. This can give you insight into what the creature was doing and where it is coming from and going. This information is valuable as it can show you where the animal lives, helping to eliminate other species. For example, tracks that originate at the base of a tree eliminate woodland mammals such as skunks and foxes and suggest that perhaps a tree-dwelling creature made them.
Step 6
Take pictures of the best tracks you find, and match them to the illustrations in your guides. Bring a notebook into the field with you, and sketch tracks along with precise measurements of the prints' length and width. These will aid you in finding out what animal produced them.
Step 7
Study where the tracks are in relation to each other. This can reveal the identity of the animal or at least help you narrow down what type of animal made them. For example, a cat normally puts its back foot in the imprint left by its front foot.

Tips & Warnings

Leave your pets home when tracking in the snow to keep them from obliterating tracks with their curious exploring.

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