Follow that footprint, paw print,
hoof print...Have you ever tracked someone's footprints
in the sand or snow? It can be kind of a mystery
figuring out where someone was going and what they were
doing. By looking carefully at animal tracks you can
learn more about their comings and goings too.
Winter is the perfect time to learn
and follow some animal tracks. You can do this in your
yard, at a local city park, or for a real adventure,
head out to a state park or forest. Pick a day right
after a snowfall and see how many different types of
tracks you can find.
Here are some things to get you
1) Think about what kind of animals
live in the area. This will help you narrow the field of
identification. It's a pretty good bet that if you're
looking in your backyard you'll find squirrel, bird, and
maybe rabbit tracks.
2) Four toes on each of the front and
hind feet means you're looking at a track from the dog
family (fox, wolf, coyote, neighborhood dog), the cat
family (bobcat, lynx, neighborhood cat) or the rabbit
family (cottontail or snowshoe hare). Does the paw print
have small triangular marks in front of it? If yes,
those are claw marks. Raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes,
and dogs will often leave claw marks. Cats, on the other
hand, retract their claws when they walk or run. So, you
won't usually find claw marks with bobcats, lynx, or
3) Four toes on the front foot and
five toes on the hind foot means it's a rodent (mice,
voles, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks).
4) If the track has five toes each on
the front and back feet it's from the raccoon and weasel
families (weasel, badger, mink, skunk, otter, bear,
beaver, muskrat, porcupine, opossum).
5) If you find a two-toe track, it's
probably a deer.
6) Is the track made by a "hopper?"
Squirrels leave interesting tracks. As they bound along,
their larger hind feet land ahead of their smaller front
feet. It looks like the front feet are side by side.
Rabbit tracks look a little different. The hind feet
still land ahead of the front feet, but the front feet
are not found right next to each other.
7) What direction is your animal
going? How can you tell? If your animal has claws it's
pretty easy...claw marks point in the direction the
animal was going. If there aren't any claw marks, see if
you can see where the snow is pushed back by the
animal's feet. The pushed back areas shows the direction
the animal came from.
You'll also need a good tracking
guide to help you identify the tracks you see. Here is a
list of a few good books to help you identify tracks:
Stokes 'Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior' by Donald & Lillian Stokes. ISBN
'Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior' by Louise R. Forrest. ISBN #0-8117-2240-6
Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks: Third Edition (Peterson Field Guides) by Olaus J. Murie. ISBN #0-395-91094-3
'Animal Tracking Basics' by Jon Young
& Tiffany Morgan. ISBN #978-0-8117-3326-7
'Tom Brown's Science and Art of Tracking' by
Tom Brown Jr. ISBN #0-425-15772-5
A good book on Bird Tracking is:
'Bird Tracks & Sign : A Guide to North American Species' by Mark Elbroch & Eleanor Marks. ISBN
To learn be a great tracker you have to put in your
"dirt time," by spending time out in the fields looking
at and identifying tracks. Next time we will look at