I was deep in the forest, hiking with a friend and my camera. In the snow were the tracks of a bobcat. I was delighted. Bobcats are such beautiful animals, and I wished to see one. They are so elusive that, even where populations are high, they are seldom seen. To find one’s track was fun. I remember seeing the clear dimple in the center lobe of the pad.
Another fun track tip I learned years ago was how to distinguish between the tracks of a wild turkey gobbler and hen.
So, as I looked over Cheryl’s puzzle on the next page, I suggested she use this page to jot down some notes about tracks that could add fun educational value and interest. Here goes.
Bear tracks have five toes, resembling human footprints, although their front feet usually do not leave a full-length impression. A good-quality track will usually show claw marks. Sometimes people see bear tracks and think they’ve found cougar tracks. However, cougar tracks have only four toes and no claw marks.
Canine and feline tracks can appear similar, but there are several key differences. Dogs often leave claw marks, while cats rarely do. Cat tracks tend to be rounder instead of elongated. Also, the front of the pad is pointed on dogs and rounded or indented on cats. Size can be an indicator of species; for example, cougar tracks are considerably larger than bobcat or house cat tracks.
Ungulates such as deer, antelope, sheep, and goats are split-hoofed, leaving tracks like parallel almonds. Some tracks show the dewclaws as small indentations on the back of the track. This is not indicative of a buck, as both bucks and does leave dewclaw marks when running or when traversing soft terrain. Elk tracks are more rounded and slightly smaller than moose tracks. Smaller deer species are much harder to distinguish reliably.
Some mammals that live near water, such as otters and beavers, have webbed feet. Again, size is an important factor—beavers have much larger feet than otters. Muskrats also live near water, but their feet are not fully webbed. All three drag their tails when walking.
Pay attention to size and small details when identifying small mammal tracks. Opossums and raccoons both leave five-toe tracks; however, raccoon toes point roughly ahead, while opossum toes are spread well apart. Porcupine tracks have a distinctive “speckled” pad mark with clear claw marks. Armadillo tracks do not have large pads, and the back two toes on a foot usually do not imprint. Their front tracks usually show two toes and their hind tracks three. The bounds of squirrels and rabbits leave four tracks in a rough rectangle, with the wider end in front.
Tracks from mustelids such as skunks, weasels, fishers, and mink are round or oval with small pads and five toes. Skunks leave especially pronounced claw marks. Size is a helpful clue. Larger mustelids such as fishers leave larger tracks than weasels and mink.
Some birds can be identified by their tracks as well. The Wild Turkey has large distinctive, three-toed tracks. A hen’s three toes are a similar length, while a gobbler’s middle toe is considerably longer. Also, gobblers usually leave larger tracks than hens.