Not all animals go into winter hibernation. Many are up and moving, and their tracks can be seen clearly in the snow.
For that reason, there’s probably no better time than winter to see what animals are active in your area and practice your tracking skills.
Before you hit the woods, take a look at these snow tracks from common animals and see if you can recognize the critters who left them.
Check out the photos and give it your best guess before finding the answer on the next image.
The adaptable canine’s tracks could be easily mistaken for a domestic dog’s. The coyote will mostly scavenge in winter, seeking out large carcasses abandoned by other predators.
However, it also has an entertaining hunting strategy for grabbing voles and mice in winter. Upon hearing them, it will quietly approach and jump high in the air, diving headfirst into the snow to retrieve its prey. It also has another favored prey in winter, so if you see these tracks in your neighborhood, keep your pets close.
Deer grow a thick coat and accumulate body fat during winter while seeking out natural shelters from the snow. Despite their long legs, deer feet drag and make unique marks in the snow with each step. This is often to conserve energy, particularly with bucks after the rutting season.
If a hunter is lucky enough to stumble upon deer snow tracks, he has a practical yellow brick road to his quarry. A skilled hunter can even tell the sex of the deer from the tracks.
Any hunter knows these animals don’t shy away from the cold. Even with snow on the ground, ducks love to go for a dip seeking out any water that isn’t frozen. They carry a good layer of fat and their feathers are naturally water-repellent, which helps to insulate them from the elements.
They do face challenges though, including foraging for food and keeping an eye out for predators.
For warmth in winter, grouse will fly directly into snowbanks to form a cave that preserves their body heat. However, they must emerge as some point, either to feed, or if they get startled by an approaching predator.
This grouse left an clear impression on the “igloo” it occupied as it exploded in a flurry of wings. If you see something like this, check for nearby tracks to get a story of what might’ve been stalking the wary bird.
The distinct shape of the feet was a big hint. Winter is a hard time for rabbits – they are hunted by predators and must constantly seek out whatever vegetation they can find.
If you see these tracks, one might be nearby, hiding among brush or tucked away in a snow den.
Mice spend the winter like the rest of us, looking for a warm refuge. In cities, that often leads them to be unwelcome guests in houses; but in the wild, they must cope with the snow by moving about under it.
In extreme weather they may also go into a torpid state to save on energy. Like the rabbit, the mouse must spend winter feasting on food stores or hunting for seeds, tree bark, and other edibles.
This was a tricky one – maybe you didn’t even know otters were active in winter, but not even the coldest season can end playtime for these critters. They’ll move about, forging through snow like this one did, usually ending up near unfrozen waters.
Sometimes water will even drop below a frozen lake, allowing otters to hunt and play under a layer of ice.
This nightstalker takes making snow angels to a whole new level. Moving about on silent wings, this bird got the drop on an unsuspecting creature, likely a mouse or vole, and made a light impression of its wings before taking off again.
If you see a sign in the snow like this, keep your eyes trained on the tree line for the distinct silhouette or an owl, or listen for its recognizable call.
The mischievous raccoon that left those prints was probably on his way to raid a winter campsite. However, even raccoons that can’t pester humans survive well in the wild. It helps that they’ll eat just about anything they can get their paws on, from insects, to eggs, to injured birds.
To combat the cold, they’ll build up fat stores and thick furs coats and retreat to dens, wrapping their tails around themselves at night to keep warm. While they’ll often enter torpor,they still have to emerge at hunt for food, all the while keeping an eye out for predators.
Maybe that penny helped scale and identify this one. Squirrels put on layers in winter by fattening up and spending time in their den, but they still have to go outside often to forage, snow or no snow. The nuts they collect and hoard by burying in the ground are often forgotten, leading to the growth of new trees and shrubs.
Quiz: Can You Guess What Animal Skulls These Are?
Liked this quiz? Check this one out.