Animal tracks: snow print identification

The sight of woodland coated in snow is one of winter’s most magical images. As well as being beautiful, it provides a glimpse into the secretive lives of some of the animals that call the woods home.

As they move across the snow-covered ground, animals leave footprints, known as tracks, behind. These tracks can tell us what creatures are living in the wood and give an insight into what they have been doing. So, the next time it snows, why not venture into the woods and see what you can learn about the animal inhabitants? Read on to find out how to identify some of the tracks you are likely to encounter.

Fox

Snowfall reveals the movements of this wily hunter, which roams the woods in search of its next meal.

Fox tracks are roughly diamond shaped (Natural Visions/Alamy).
Fox tracks are roughly diamond shaped (Natural Visions/Alamy).
Dog tracks are subtly different to those of foxes. (iStock/robertiez)
Dog tracks are subtly different to those of foxes. (iStock/robertiez)

Fox tracks have four toes - two at the front and one at each side – and a roughly oval-shaped pad at the rear. Claw marks may be visible at the end of each toe. As both are members of the canine family, foxes and dogs have similar tracks, but they can be told apart.

Fox tracks tend to be narrower, with the toes closer together, giving it a diamond shape; where as a dog’s tracks are slightly rounder. Size is also an indicator - fox tracks are around 5cm long and up to 4cm wide, any prints larger than this likely belong to a dog. The distribution of the tracks can be a clue too; foxes tend to travel in straight lines, while dogs move around much more erratically.

Badger

Their nocturnal habits make badgers hard to see, but tracks in the snow can show us where these beautiful animals have gone on their nightly wanderings.

Badger tracks have five toes. (FLPA/Alamy)
Badger tracks have five toes. (FLPA/Alamy)
Cat tracks are smaller, with only four toes. (iStock/itakdalee)
Cat tracks are smaller, with only four toes. (iStock/itakdalee)

Badger tracks have five toes positioned ahead of a broad rear pad; claw marks may also be visible. It’s possible you may confuse a badger track with those of a cat, although they are easy to tell apart when you know what to look for. Cat tracks only have four toes and no claw marks, as they retract their claws when walking. Badger tracks are also larger at around 5cm long and up to 6.5cm wide, compared to 3.5cm long and 4cm wide for cats.

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Rabbit

Visit a snowy woodland and there’s a good chance you’ll see some rabbit tracks.

Rabbits prints are set closely together. (iStock/paylessimages)
Rabbits prints are set closely together. (iStock/paylessimages)

Rabbits’ hind feet are much larger than their fore feet, meaning their tracks are comprised of a pair of long, thin prints and a pair of shorter prints. As social creatures, it is possible you will see lots of rabbit tracks crossing each other in the snow.

Deer

Each of the UK’s deer species has similar tracks.

Deer prints normally have a pointed front. (Juniors Bildarchiv/Alamy)
Deer prints normally have a pointed front. (Juniors Bildarchiv/Alamy)

Deer hooves are splayed, meaning they leave two long imprints in the snow with a gap in between. It can be hard to tell different species apart, although size can be a clue. A muntjac’s tracks are typically just 3cm long and 2cm wide, while a red deer stag may leave prints as large as 9cm long and 7cm wide. Roe deer tracks are around 5cm long and 4cm wide, while for a fallow deer tracks are around 7cm long and 5cm wide. Deer tracks could be confused with sheep tracks, although the latter tend to have more rounded ends, while the front of deer tracks typically come to a point.

Birds

Bird tracks are easily distinguished from those of mammals

Bird tracks look a little like arrowheads. (iStock/oversnap)
Bird tracks look a little like arrowheads. (iStock/oversnap)

Long and thin, bird tracks often look a little like arrowheads. It can be difficult to identify species from a track alone, although those you are most likely to encounter in woodland are birds that spend much of their time on the ground, such as pheasants and blackbirds.

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