How to Recognize Animal Tracks in the Snow

How to Recognize Animal Tracks in the Snow

Fallen snow gives us a glimpse of what our local wildlife is up to when we’re not around. The tracks that would be nearly invisible in the summertime are much more apparent in the snow. We can see which animals are around, where they come and go, and where they hide.

Freshly fallen snow is a treat for hikers, campers, and fans of Ontario’s wildlife. Tracks aren’t always obvious, but tracking gets easier with practice. Here’s a list of the most common tracks to help you get started.

Raccoon

Raccoons have long fingers that stretch out from their palms. The fore prints measure between 5 and 7.6cm long, while the hind prints are longer, at 6 to 9.7cm. These prints are long and narrow, with the possibility of little claws that dot the tops of the fingertips. Raccoon trails often lead to trees.

Virginia Opossum

These prints look a lot like a baby’s hands. Virginia opossums have 5 toes on each paw, and the hind feet have opposable thumbs that stick out on the inner side. Behind the paw prints, there may be drag marks left by the animal’s tail.

Birds

Bird prints vary between species, but they are all very similar. Bird feet have 3 toes in the front and one in the back, like the interior of a peace sign. Hopping birds leave tracks that show 2 feet side by side, with a few centimeters between each hop. Walking birds, like crows, show a walking gait of one foot in front of the other.

Deer

Deer have cloven hoofs. As a result, their prints are often heart-shaped with a split down the middle. Dew claws may or may not appear as dots behind each hoof. You might also find drag marks between each step because deer don’t like to lift their feet high off the ground.

Moose

The heavier the animal, the deeper the print. Moose prints are similar to a deer’s, but deeper and much bigger. Moose prints are 5 to 7 inches long and heart-shaped, with a split in the middle and the possibility of dew claws appearing in the snow.

Muskrat

Muskrat prints are like the raccoon’s, but smaller. These tracks are usually found near the water and have trails behind them where the muskrat’s tail dragged in the snow.

Red Squirrel

Red squirrel tracks are unique. When a red squirrel hops in deep snow, it leaves prints that marge to form 2 triangles that point toward each other. In shallow snow, you may see 2 pairs of prints that hop together. The fore paws have 4 digits, while the hind paws have 5.

Deer Mouse

Deer mice hop around from place to place. Given their size, their fore prints often merge with their hind prints in the snow. Deer mouse prints are tiny and often have a drag mark between them where their tail marked the snow.

Red Fox

The fox’s snow prints are similar to a small dog’s. Its palms have an inverted V shape, with 4 digits and claws above them. Foxes usually walk in a straight, C-shaped gallop in which the hind legs reach over the front legs first.

Black Bear

Bears are usually sleeping by the time there is snow, but it can happen. Black bear prints show wide palms and 5 fingertips with claws that stick out from them. Front paw prints measure about 5×5 inches, while the back paws are up to 8 inches in length.

Snowshoe Hare

Hare tracks are recognizable by their hopping shape: two prints in the front and two in the back. The hide feet may look a lot bigger than the ones in the front. If you look closely, you may find evidence of little toe prints since hares like to splay out their toes for traction.

Great Horned Owl

Owls leave fascinating snow prints when they hunt. Like a work of art, two pairs of wings are visible, outstretched above a hole in the snow, where the owl grasped its prey. You may also find another set of tracks that lead up to the owl’s mark, showing where the prey was walking before it was caught. The wing prints are unmistakable.

Skunk

Skunk prints often appear in a seemingly random or alternating pattern because the animal is casually looking for food, knowing that its spray will defend itself. Like bears, they have visible claws that sick out from their fingertips. The hind paws have longer palms and measure somewhere between 6 and 10cm in total length.