Challenge Yourself: Identify Tracks in the Snow

Have you been patiently waiting for a blanket of crisp, white snow? Or are you the type to enjoy a snow-less winter? Well, either way, we have a challenge for you once those snowflakes undoubtedly fall from the sky!

Read on to learn how to identify tracks in the snow… then, take our quiz to see how much you learned!

Dark eyed junco in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Photo: StockFreeImages.com

Coyotes

Coyote prints are ovular and usually 2.5 to 3.5 inches long, sometimes with sharp claw marks on the front two toes. The four toes are usually close together, while dog prints are thicker and splayed in different directions.

Dog prints vary by species but usually have more splayed toes. Photo: Img Arcade

In addition, coyotes typically run or walk in a straight line, with each paw print almost directly in front of the next and with few meandering lines. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, aren’t as worried about conserving energy, so they wander all over the place, frequently crossing over their own paths.

Coyote tracks typically follow a straight line, as shown here. Photo: Flickr Roger Lupton

Look for coyote tracks in fields or along woodland edges, where they forage for food.

Red Foxes

Thick fur on red foxes’ paws can blur their tracks significantly. Image: Wild Things Unlimited

Fox tracks can be similar to coyote tracks, although they are typically smaller (2-3 inches long) and daintier. Another way to distinguish fox tracks is by the clarity of the print: In winter, red foxes grow thick fur on their feet, which can blur their tracks considerably.

Like coyotes, red foxes travel in straight lines with little meandering or crossing of their own tracks. You might also spot pounce marks in the snow where a fox dove under the surface to catch its prey.

Birds: Wild Turkeys, Dark-Eyed Juncos

A dark-eyed junco. Photo: Stock Free Images

It can be easy to spot birds up in their air during the winter, but try looking down for another challenge: spotting their tracks in the snow. Dark-eyed juncos and wild turkeys commonly leave tracks that you might spot in the pastures and woodlands of CVNP.

Turkey tracks are one of the larger bird tracks you might spot. Photo: Flickr Robyn Waayers

Wild turkey tracks are about four inches long with three toes. The center toe points straight forward and is longer than the other two. Look for turkey tracks in open pastures or old farm fields, where the birds forage for leftover grains.

In deep snow, dark-eyed juncos can leave small drag marks between hops. Photo: Canadian Wildlife Federation

Dark-eyed juncos are quite a bit smaller than wild turkeys and like to hop around on forest floors while looking for food. Prints are only about 1.5 inches long and have three forward-facing toes, with one longer toe reaching behind.

White-Tailed Deer


The pointed end of deer tracks show you the direction the deer was traveling. Image: Canadian Wildlife Federation

White-tailed deer tracks are some of the most common tracks you’ll see in CVNP. Look for heart-shaped prints from a deer’s hooves. When walking slowly, deer barely lift their feet, so you can also look for drag marks between each step.

River Otters

River otter prints have five toes! Image: Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

One last print: the river otter! Some of our most playful animals, otters have prints that show five pointed toes around a small heel pad. Tracks are wider than they are long—3 to 3.5 inches long and 3-4 inches wide.

Otters—and even their tracks!—can be tricky to spot, but your best chance is to visit Beaver Marsh and look for clues in the ice and snow.


Test your knowledge!

Let’s see how well you can identify CVNP animal tracks in the snow.

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