September 22, 2020

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Squirrel, Cottontail or Snowshoe Hare?

Even though it’s winter and animal tracks are everywhere to be found how do you know which track belongs to what animal? Squirrels and rabbits have an almost identical track pattern and to make it worse their toes usually aren’t distinguishable in the snow.  Most often you only see a group of 4 imprints that are merely oblong impressions. If you can remember a few different trail width sizes then you’ll be an expert in telling which of these three animals left the tracks you found.

Snowshoe Hares will always have the largest trail width averaging around 6 inches wide.  Once you have identified a Hares tracks you’ll never confuse them with any others. Another important thing to take notice of is where are the tracks. A Snowshoe will almost always be found in a coniferous forest.  I’ve seen them in the open of hardwoods, but there was always the cover of evergreens within site.

This set of tracks on the right are of a Cottontail Rabbit.  The trail width of a Cottontail is approximately 3 to 4 inches wide.  Their feet are much narrower than a Snowshoes but the gait pattern and track pattern are identical. Cottontail tracks will usually be found in brushy areas, the thicker the brush the better the habitat for Cottontails. They will also be found along hedgerows and agricultural fields. The length of the Cottontails hind track is approximately 3 to 3 1/2 long.

This set on the left is of a Red Squirrel. These tracks are more commonly confused with those of Cottontails. Red Squirrels as well as Gray Squirrels are more boxed shaped in the track pattern and are much smaller in length. Even though the trail width can be quite similar the rear track size will distinguish the two apart.  The rear print of a Gray Squirrel will usually be just under two inches long while a Red`Squirrels rear track will be approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches long.  Depending on how deep the snow powder is squirrel tracks can appear much larger than they actually are as more of the foot and leg tend to leave an imprint.

With that little bit of knowledge you should be able to tell these tracks apart on your next outing.  Happy Hiking!!


Redtail Hawk 0, Snowshoe Hare 1

I was tracking a Snowshoe hare today and he turned out to be one tough rabbit. I came across a spot where he was attacked by an obviously hungry Redtail Hawk. I’m assuming it’s a redtail since I saw one in the area and the sign at the crime scene was as fresh as could be.

The spot of the first attack, they wrestled around here for a few minutes. The spot is trampled so much from the Hare escaping the clutch of the hawk several times.

The hawk drew some blood at this point in the attack.

Here is where the final attempt to catch the hare took place. The hawk did manage to get a talon full of hair but not a meal. I followed the tracks for 100 yards and with the exception of a few drops of blood the Hare was traveling at a normal gait. There was a lot of Coyote sign around so I’m sure they will be on his trail tonight.  He’ll probably do fine since he seems to be one tough Snowshoe!!

iPhone and Animal Tracks

As the snow starts to pile up distinguishing individual tracks of larger animals can get a little tricky. Most tracks of heavier animals fill in with snow as one foot is lifted and the next in line pushes more into the imprint. Often times their trail  may just appear as a trough throw the snow obscuring most of the details. When this happens if your not lucky enough to find an identifiable print you need to look more at the animals gait pattern, trail width and stride.  Not all animals traveling gaits are the same, some are bounders, some are pacers and some are diagonal walkers. Learning their gait patterns will eliminate some possibilities of which animals tracks  your looking at.  Just as their gait is different so to is their trail width. Trail width is the measurement from the outside of  the left track to the outside of the right track. If you can distinguish in the deep snow the edges of the tracks then you have narrowed down your choices even further. The last measurement to help you out is the stride of the animal. The stride is the measurement from the back edge of one track to the back edge of the next same track. An Elk will have a larger stride than a Mule deer or Whitetail.

Just because the snow gets deeper doesn’t mean identification is impossible. Next time your out bring along the MyNature Animal Track app, everything you need to know about stride, trail width and gait patterns are just a push  button away. So pull on your long johns, strap on the snowshoes and hit the woods and see what’s living in your back yard.

iPhone Animal Tracks

MyNature Animal Tracks for the iPhone has been pretty consistent at receiving 5 star ratings. Stop by the iTunes store and pick up the app today and start learning what’s sharing the woods with you on your next trip.

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