Identifying Animal Tracks for Beginners

January 10, 2020

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DutchWare - How to Identify Animal Tracks

One of the most fun ways to enjoy a hike and celebrate the outdoors is to pay attention to the fascinating animal ecosystem that inhabits it. As you begin to notice the animals sharing the trail with you, it will give you a greater appreciation for nature and the opportunity to explore it. One of the best ways to learn about nearby animals is by identifying animal tracks.

While they may all look similar to an untrained eye, a little bit of study will reveal the intricacies and differences between each type of track. Before long, you’ll be able to spot the telltale signs of which animals are passing by along a hike with you. We’ll take a closer look at how to do so in this article.

Quick Ways to Identify Tracks

Did you know there is more than one way to identify an animal than just the look of its track marks? You’ll be able to tell a good amount by considering factors such as:

  • The size of the print, which will give you a good sense of the animal’s size
  • The depth of the footprint, indicating how large and heavy the animal is
  • Whether it is a paw or hoofprint
  • How many toes the animal has
  • If there is an opposable thumb or toe
  • What kind of track pattern the animal made — for example, was it walking diagonally, bounding, or pacing?
  • Nail prints, which may indicate the difference between a canine — which leaves a nail print — or a feline, which retracts their claws while walking

Common Animal Tracks

Some common animal tracks you might find on your hike include:

  • Canines: Look for paw prints with four soft toes and claw marks. Front and backtracks will be identical.
  • Felines: Four-toed paws without claw marks. Felines will also have identical front and backtracks.
  • Deer and Moose: Keep an eye out for cloven hoof marks with diagonal or sloping patterned tracks.
  • Rodents: Most rodents have smaller, four-toed marks in the front and larger, five-toed marks from their hind paws.
  • Beavers: Look for five toe marks, with webbed hind prints.
  • Bears, Raccoons, and Skunks: These animals have five toes, one of which is an opposable digit. Claw marks will be visible.
  • Rabbits: Their hind paw prints will be double the size of their front ones, with four toes on each paw print.
  • Birds: Each bird is unique, but most have three skinny toes with either a large rear claw in birds of prey or webbed feet in waterbirds

Of course, there are many more animals you’ll likely come across in the wild! We’d recommend you continue researching and studying different tracks. The more you know, the more fun each track sighting will be!

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