Discovering Mammal Tracks & Sign

Beyond the quick glance and understanding specific habitat preferences to determine the most likely places to observe mammals, learning animal tracks and sign will greatly enhance your knowledge of what may be found in an area.  Tracking is fun, it solves a mystery to discover what mammal left its sign for you to find.  There is no one way to learn Tracking & Sign, you can begin by looking at field guides and resources that describe and show pictures of various mammal signs or simply go outdoors and observe.  Whatever you do, ask questions and be inquisitive, let your curiosity guide your adventure.

Here are some suggestions of what you may want to take along when you go out to observe.
>Notepad: jot down even small details of what you observe or draw quick sketches & thoughts on what might have happened
>Camera: take several pictures from different angles of the track or sign
>Small Carpenter’s tape measure: measure tracks
>Compass: to record direction to be used later at the naturalist’s with a map

Here are some tips to look for when you find Tracks & Sign:


What does the track look like?

Does it have toes? How many.

Can you see claws?

What is the overall shape, round, a crooked tic/tack/toe?

Are the toes long like fingers or does it resemble a dog or cat?

How would you describe it?

Does it appear to have the hind foot on top of the front foot in the same track, making it look larger than just one?

Is it symmetrical?

What is the shape of the toe pads and the shape of the palm?

Think of it like a human walking on all fours, Toes, Palm and Heel, most mammals do not register a heel.

Try making a plaster of paris cast of the tracks you find!

Measure a Track & Stride:

>The stride is the length of the track from front toe on front track to front toe on the hind track.

>The width of the trail is measure from the outside edge to outside edge of opposite track.

>Measure the track print itself length and width.


>What is the overall shape?

>Does it have blunt or pointed ends or both?

>How big is it compared to a pencil or your finger or thumb?

>Is it dark and moist or light and dry?

>What is in the scat, berries, seeds, bones, fur?

Ecosystem & substrate:

>Describe the overall ecosystem.

>Is the Track & Sign near water?

>Describe: stream, river or lake.

>Describe the soil the track is in: mud, sand, snow, ice?

>Does it look a well used trail?

>Is it at the base of a tree?

>What types of plants or trees are nearby?

>What food sources are in the area?


>Always take note of the weather, did a rain storm pass through the night before?

>Is there snow on the ground?

>What direction is the wind?

>Or is there a storm predicted in the next 12 hours?

Back home at your Naturalist’s desk, spend some time reviewing your notes and looking at your pictures to see if any other thoughts arise.  Jot these down along with a brief description of your discovery.  Sometimes as we write, ideas are triggered that we hadn’t thought often times leading us to answers.  An excellent resource for common mammal reference is by Paul Rezendes, called “Tracking and the Art of Seeing” and can be purchased here
A very comprehensive guide to Tracking and Animal Sign of all land Mammals is by Mark Elbroch, called “Mammal Tracks & Sign”