The Art Of Wildlife Tracking

In this fast passed, modern life, sometimes being observant about nature takes a backseat. “Tracking” is a skill that is a fading art, but a valuable one, especially if you have pets and livestock. Why is important to know who is running around your property? Well, if you’re like me, and have chickens, I want to know what predators are testing our defenses! If you’re an inquisitive person like the oldest country kid, he delights in getting snapshots of animal’s lives and behaviors.

Now I am not going to write a book on the topic of tracking here. There have already been some good ones done, I’m sure. Not to mention, there are endless websites out there that can be googled for image references. I am simply here to get you thinking, pass out a few basics, and hopefully make you more observant!

So when it comes to tracking, you need to know where to look. In the summer months, this can be difficult, as tracks don’t show up often…. unless you know where to look. Mud is a great place to look for tracks, be it at a river’s edge or around your coop door. The winter months are so much easier to find tracks in, as snow is the perfect medium. Keep in mind, that sunlight and melting can distort tracks in the snow, losing detail and exaggerating size.

When it comes to animal tracks, start by studying up on known wildlife in your area. Understanding basic animal locomotion is helpful too. Deer tend to walk one foot in front of the other, while rabbit’s back paws will appear slightly in front of the front paw prints as it hops. Squirrels tend to bound through snow, while rodents will more then likely leave a tail drag mark.

Here is an excellent field guide to start learning the basic prints out there. Of course you will have different critters where you live, but these are some common ones. If you would like to print this off, go to the Hiking Michigan website. They have these images in a PDF which you can print off and take with you as a field guide to help identify tracks.

When starting out learning about tracking, narrowing down “who” the prints belong to can sometimes feel overwhelming. A good basic rule to follow is, if you don’t see toe nails, it is from the feline family. No, I am not talking just about your neighbor’s cat, but also bobcats, lynx, and mountain lions. If there are toe nails present, it opens a wide variety of possible suspects depending on the size and shape of the paw pads. I am talking from your standard domestic dog, coyote and fox, to raccoon, weasels and such.

We have lived in the same location for over ten years, and never in that time had I ever seen a weasel. Well guess what? One got into our coop and sadly killed some of our birds. The vet, after examining bite wounds on a couple of the birds said it was a weasel. Of course I said “no way, never seen one.” Well guess what? Tracks don’t lie and the oldest country kid found some muddy prints on a piece of plywood and I would have to lean toward weasel feet. He grabbed a pen and tried to outline each print. From the gate (how it walks) and the prints, I am leaning toward weasel.

Tracking isn’t all about what is trying to eat your livestock though. Sometimes it is just plan fun. Ever tracked a squirrel to see where he was going? Or tried to follow the dance of a field mouse as he continuously scampers in anything but a direct line? Looking at and following tracks can tell you all sorts of interesting things about an animal, from where it feeds to where it sleeps.

And then, every once in a while you come across a print that is just plan crazy. And if you hadn’t seen it made, you would have to stand and scratch your head for a few trying to figure it out…. Like this one…..

It’s a chicken snow angel!!!

**Homestead Tips on Tuesday is a weekly series where we help you learn skills, tips, and trick to help you on your journey of homesteading. Many places post list of things you should/could do as far as homesteading skill, but I feel lists are at times overwhelming and can make people give up before they even start. So every Tuesday I share one thing for you to try or consider. I hope you join us every Tuesday and I would love to hear about your adventures with each weeks topic.**

12 thoughts on “The Art Of Wildlife Tracking

  1. Obsessed tracker here! Glad to see interest in wildlife spreading amongst the homesteading crowd. If I may suggest a book: Tracking and the Art of Seeing, by Paul Rezendes is quite readable, cover to cover, for the beginner. As you indicate, there is much more to it than recognizing footprints, because footprints can be so indistinct, melted out, etc. That book gets into gait, habitat, and behavior, so it's a great one to start with. If anyone is interested, I've posted several times about wildlife tracking and camera trapping, so feel free to check out my blog. Happy tracking, all!

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