Need to Identify Tracks?

Send high-resolution images of: individual tracks, track patterns, trails, habitat, with scale to svantassel2@unl.edu

 

Identifying Animal Tracks

Dog track. Photo by Wildlife Control Consultant, LLC.Tracks are an excellent way to determine the presence of an animal. The problem is, however, that rarely does one find a "textbook" track. (See dog track at right by Wildlife Control Consultant, LLC.) Tracks are often smudged or only partial. Frequently tracks only help one narrow down potential suspects and so they have not been included in the central key. However, we have compiled some information here that may help you identify tracks.

Tracking Principles

  1. Perfect tracks are rarely found in the field.
  2. Look carefully at the track and the nature of the substrate holding the track impression.
    • What is its width? (with snow measure at the bottom not at the top of the snow)
    • What is its length?
    • What is its shape? round? oval? oblong?
    • Are claw marks showing? How many? (could the ground be too hard to show claws?)
    • Are pads showing? How many?
    • Are toes showing? How many?
  3. Are there other tracks?
    • If so what is the distance between this track and the other track? This is known as the animal's gait! Knowing the gait can be very helpful in identifying the species.
  4. What is the habitat?
  5. Where is the animal going and what is it doing?
  6. What species exist in your area?
  7. What exotic animals (non-native animals) exist and could possibly have gotten loose in your area?
  8. These will provide helpful clues to narrowing down your list of suspects!!

Note: if you want us to identify your track, we still need answers to the questions listed above!!

Send high resolution photos (Learn how to take good photos) along with your answers to the above questions (as many as you can answer) to Track Id Help All images become property of UNL.

Rodent Tracks

All rodents, from the smallest mouse to the largest beaver...
  • Leave 5-toed tracks with their hind feet.
  • Beavers have webbed hind feet!
  • But rodents show only 4-toed front tracks. Cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits show 5-toed front tracks.
  • Their hind tracks are usually placed side-by-side.
Norway Rat Muskrat
rat tracks Muskrat track and trail

Carnivore Tracks

Bears

usually leave 5-toed tracks with a human-like or distant heel mark.
Raccoons

Front feet are "hand-like" and have a slight bulge before the toe.

Back feet are longer. Not all toes show.
Badgers

Tracks as compared to coyote tracks. Note the gap between the pads and the toe nails. Angle of the toes should also be considered.
Canines (Dog Family)

tracks compared side by side:

Coyote

Dog (domestic)

Red Fox

Wolf

Cat/feline tracks will lack claws and the shape of track will be rounder than the oblong canine track.


Dogs, bears and weasels (badgers, skunks, weasels, otters) tracks usually show claw marks.

Members of the weasel family have five toes on front and hind feet and leave 5-toed tracks. Skunks and badgers also show a heel mark.

Bobcats, mountain lion, and feral cats are 4-toed and usually don't show claw marks. Their front tracks are slightly larger than their hind tracks.

Wolves, coyotes, foxes and feral dog tracks resemble cat tracks but usually leave claw marks. 

Other Mammals

We've placed both some pretty common and some pretty unusual mammals here!

The shrews and moles are here, but although they look like rodents with pointed noses, they are really insect eaters, making them somewhat different from true carnivores, too.

Also, the common deer and rabbit species are here as well as their less common relatives, the elk and jackrabbits. Too, there is the deer-like but singularly special pronghorn antelope.

Opossum Tracks
Deer Tracks

Rabbit Tracks
Note the typical I-formation that helps distinguish it from squirrels which move with a two by two pattern.
Cottontail rabbit tracks in snow. Courtesy of Dallas Virchow of UNL
   
   
 

 

Reptiles and Amphibians

Many poisonous snakes have:
  • a triangular head
  • a blotched or banded body
  • cat-like eye pupils

Bird Tracks

 

Identify that bird! If bird roosts are a problem, look during late evening hours. If bird feeding damage is a problem, look during midmorning hours. You can usually distinguish birds from other animals by their three-toed tracks. Woodpeckers are the exception with two-toes pointing forward.

Dried bird (and reptile) droppings often have white coloration that is caused by concentrated uric acid.

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