Look for Animal Tracks in the Snow

Northern Wisconsin Animal Tracks In The Snow

Tracks are often well defined in shallow snow, so after examining your own tracks look for those made by other animals that are winter-active in your area. You may only find prints left by neighborhood dogs and cats, but check for those made by birds and, in areas that support these animals, those left by squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and deer, to mention just a few.

Follow any tracks you come across, and try to piece together something about the animal’s activities. You may find evidence of a wild chase, or even a kill, or tracks that lead from a food source to an animal’s den.

Animals that remain active during the colder months basically like to eat the same types of food that are available to them at other times. There are usually far fewer choices, however, and heavy snow-cover makes for difficulties. Some animals are capable of storing fat, which not only sustains them during lean times but keeps them warmer. Other animals continue to need to eat daily (deer and rabbits, for instance, eat all the time!), and where they once ate the fresh leaves of trees and shrubs, they turn to nibbling on buds and soft twigs.

Be on the lookout for the signs left behind by animals that have been foraging for food. Examine the bark torn from tree trunks and branches, as it offers some clues to the presence of animals. (This can be done year-round, of course.) Wild cats, like their domestic counterparts, leave shredded bark on trees, a result of sharpening their claws. Porcupines nibble on patches of bark high up in trees, small toothmarks may even be evident. Freshly nipped buds may mean that deer have feasted recently. You may also come across blood-stained snow, for carnivores need to kill every so often so they can eat to survive.

Many general field guides include diagrams of tracks along with their descriptions of animals.

[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user siskokid]

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About the Author

Naomi K.Shapiro is an active member of Outdoor Writers Association of America and Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators. She lived for 15 years in Clam Lake, WI (permanent population of 140 not counting deer, bear and elk!) and writes regularly on issues involving business, the outdoors and tourism.


  1. pa diluna says:

    In pristine fluffy snow last week I found tracks too deep to see a definite print. The front and back prints about 12 to 18 inches apart, but there were two parallel lines on the left side of the footprints, all the way through my yard, out the front steps and into the boulevard where the tracks made a large oval pattern. No sign of a struggle, no fur,etc. but I wonder if it was a carnivore dragging dinner home—-like the back two legs of a rabbit??

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