Common Winter Animal Tracks

This week’s blog was written by Sierra R., a Bass alumni. She attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy this summer because it looked like a good opportunity to further her education and to give her a deeper look into different career fields. Sierra’s hobbies include hiking, nature journaling, Girl Scouts, and theater.

Although winter is not everyone’s favorite season, it can be an exciting time. With winter snow comes activities such as sledding and snowman building. My favorite part about winter is the abundance of animal tracks I can find in the freshly fallen snow. When it’s not too cold, I like to go outside and practice my print identification. Here are some prints that are commonly found in the winter.

Squirrel tracks are one of my favorites. Small and in a set of four, squirrel prints are surprisingly cute. Their unique print pattern is made by them leaping and galloping from place to place. On freshly fallen snow, squirrel prints can be very detailed with tiny fingers, nails, and paw pads. Squirrel tracks are often found on driveways, logs, and near the bases of trees. Because squirrels are very widespread, people living in the city can also enjoy identifying these tiny tracks.

Fresh squirrel prints I found in my driveway.

Another favorite is the raccoon. Chances are, you will find these prints in your driveway on garbage night. Although, you can also find them in the woods. Raccoon prints are mainly characterized by their hand-like appearance with five nimble fingers, or digits, on each paw. Their back foot also has five digits. One unusual thing about these tracks is that their back paw print is usually ahead or right next to their front paw print; This is because of the raccoon’s unique walking gait.

Old raccoon tracks about 2 inches big. Front paw on the left back paw on the right.

If you live in the U.S, you have probably seen your fair share of deer prints. Deer have become practically part of the landscape in much of the country. But just because these tracks are common doesn’t mean they are boring. Following deer tracks is an excellent practice for basic animal-tracking skills and can give you a quick look into a deer’s daily routine. For example, you can find patches of land where deer have mulled through for food or places where deer once bedded down to rest.

Top picture: Overlapping domestic cat tracks about an inch long.
Bottom picture: Body impression from a deer nestling down in the snow.

If you or your neighbors have an outdoor cat, you have most likely seen these before. These prints are often seen on sidewalks, roads, and porches. Unlike canine tracks, feline tracks are relatively easy to distinguish from their wild variants. For example, bobcats have larger prints and are not commonly found in urban areas.

Crow prints can be found in many areas, as crows live in a variety of habitats. In deep snow, their footprints can be hard to identify due to how thin their foot is. In light snow, crow footprints can be easily seen with three toes and a long back claw. In light but thick snow, you can also spot wing impressions. The ones I have seen usually look like light streaks in the snow. Although, I have seen pictures of more defined wing prints.

Top photo: Crow tracks about 2 inches long found under a hemlock tree.
Bottom photo: Light wing marks from a crow.

Animal print identification is a great hobby and can be done any time of the year, but winter and late fall can be prime seasons for finding non-hibernating animal tracks. If you go out in the snow to ID animal prints be sure to bundle up and dress warm!

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.