Animal Tracks Gallery
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Animal Tracking Resources
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
A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast
by Linda J. Spielman
Paperback, published by Countryman Press, released July 4, 2017 192 pages, 6 X 9 inches
My book contains between 6 and 12 drawings for each of 40 species, each drawing meticulously and accurately copied from one or several photographs.
Each species treatment also includes written sections that discuss important details and point out differences and similarities between different species. Gait patterns can be as important as individual tracks for identification, so the typical gaits for each species are illustrated with diagrams and explained in written discussions. Measurements are given for tracks and gaits, and there is also a short section on habitat, sign, and scat. By focusing on the tracks themselves and limiting other topics I was able to produce a book that is easily carried in a daypack and yet remarkably comprehensive. My book arises out of my own experience tracking northeastern mammals, but the approach will be beneficial for trackers in any region. A Field Guide to Tracking Mammals in the Northeast is available from major booksellers. I can also ship it directly to you. You can send a check for $15.66 ($13.00 + $2.66 media mail) to Linda Spielman, PO Box 955, Dryden, NY 13053. I welcome your comments; visit www.lindajspielman.com, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you live in Minnesota, you may want to join Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project.
There are some very knowledgeable members and have helped me learn more about tracking.
To join, contact:
Also, check out their Facebook page. It has excellent commentary on submitted track photos.