Tracking Guide from the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources
Spotting interesting creatures in the winter requires a different sort of knowledge and observational skill than in the warmer months. The likelihood of actually seeing an animal is lower since the majority of organisms become much more secretive and evasive in the cold weather, spending the majority of their time hunkered down and trying to keeping warm, or quickly and quietly going about their business of finding the limited amount of food available to them. However, although the creatures themselves may be hard to find, the actions of their daily life are much more apparent to us than in spring or summer because of one winter’s best gifts. Snow.
Snow gives us a window with which to observe the movements and actions of winter creatures, preserving the footprints/tracks long after the animal passed through. Finding tracks isn’t hard, you just start by getting outside and keeping your eyes on the snow, and interpreting them is easily done with just a little practice.
Basic Tracking How To’s:
1) Start by looking at the size of tracks and the distance between individual prints, this can give you a sense of the size of the animal
2) Look to see if the tracks are paws or hooves, if hooves the track was most likely made by a White-tailed Deer, if paws, the tracks could belong to a coyote, dog, or fox
3) If paw-prints are grouped so that two more elongated paw-prints are located directly in front of two smaller ones the tracks probably belong to a rabbit or squirrel
4) After getting a good look at a couple individual prints, follow that track for a while to get a sense for what the animal was doing or where it was going.
-Emily Buckner '15 for the Cole Student Naturalist Program