Animal tracks: winter wildlife tracking
Wild animals can be hard to spot as they’re quite shy, and some, such as badgers and foxes, are mostly out and about at night. But look closely and you can find evidence of their presence. Winter’s the perfect time to get out in the woods and develop your tracking skills as you can see animal footprints on muddy ground, and plants have died back making clues easier to find. We’ve put together a handy guide to what to look for.
Look for footprints in muddy ground – use our match the tracks activity to help you get started. Here are a few more pointers to help you work out who’s been heading your way:
- Foxes and dogs both have four toes so their tracks can look similar. But fox prints are narrower and diamond-shaped, while dog tracks are more square-shaped. Also, dogs tend to run around all over the place but foxes are usually heading somewhere on the hunt for food.
- Badgers and otters both have five toes but badgers have long claws on their front feet. Otter prints are rounder and their claws aren’t big enough to make an imprint.
- Deer hooves are cloven (split in two) so they leave two long marks side-by-side.
Lots of animals burrow into the ground to make their homes. Look out for these:
- Badgers' holes are called setts. You’ll usually find them on sloping ground and they’ll be badger-shaped (like a D on its side). Badgers dig a lot so you’ll probably see piles of earth outside – if it’s fresh, then you’ll know that the sett is being lived in.
- Rabbit holes are called warrens. They’re smaller than badger holes and are round or oval.
- Tiny holes probably belong to creatures such as wood mice or voles.
Where there’s an animal, there’s going to be poo. Check out our poo ID sheet to help you work out which animal left it. If you have a poke around with a stick, you can often see what it’s been eating too! Remember not to touch poo with your hands as it contains lots of germs.
Nibbled tree trunks
Many animals, such as deer, rabbit, hare and vole, strip bark from trees for food. The height of the stripped area can give you a clue about which animal is responsible. Deer leave vertical (up and down) marks, but other animals tend to nibble across the tree trunk.
Look out for fur caught on brambles or fences. Can you work out which animal left a bit of its coat behind? Badger hair is quite long and strong, and is usually dark with a light tip. Fox fur is reddish brown, although lots of foxes have white patches too.
If you need some more top tips to help you track down your woodland friends, make sure you check out our poos and clues ID book.
Found some good animal clues? Why not take some pictures and post them on our Facebook page?