Finding ways to get outside and connect with nature in the wintertime can be a challenge, but learning to identify animal tracks in the snow can be lots of fun and a really great way to learn about the wildlife in your neighbourhood! We chatted with Paula Grieef from Oak Hammock Marsh to learn how to get started.
NM: If someone wanted to go out looking for animal tracks how/where would you recommend they start?
PG: I would suggest starting in your own backyard, your local park or your favourite haunt. There are animal tracks everywhere once you start looking and starting with the animals you know are in the area gives you a head start on identifying them.
NM: How hard is it to identify animal tracks, and what are some tools/resources people could use if they’re just getting started?
PG: It can be a little tricky at first because animals don’t always do what the books say. Having a ruler and a good guide book is essential and a magnifying glass is a bonus. The books listed below are all good resources and cover a variety of price points.
Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes
Mammal Tracks & Sign by Mark Elbroch
Bird Tracks & Sign by Mark Elbroch
Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks
Scats and Track of North America: A field guide to the signs of nearly 150 wildlife species
Animal Tracks of Manitoba by Ian Sheldon and Tamara Eder
National Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Familiar Animal Tracks of North America
Animal Tracks: A folding pocket guide to the Tracks & Signs of familiar North American Species (Pocket Naturalist Guide Series) by James Kavanagh
You can also download a free animal tracks resource to get you started here from the Manitoba Forestry Association
NM: What tips do you have for identifying animal tracks?
PG: Read the introduction to any book you have before you head out. Spend time watching animals and how they move and what they are walking on. Take your book with you and as soon as you see an animal stop, watch what it is doing and then once it has moved off go and look at the tracks made. Measure them to get an idea of what size animals make what size prints. Maybe take a picture and then try to figure it out – even flipping through a field guide page by page to find the right track will work.
NM: What are some of the most common or easiest tracks for people to see in Manitoba?
PG: Start with what ever is in your backyard. Red Squirrel and Eastern Cottontail are probably two of the most common tracks. White-tailed Deer is also very easy to find and identify.
NM: What are some of your favourite tracks to look for?
PG: Birds of course are near and dear to my heart but what I like most is when the tracks show interactions between different animals, be it a chase, following each other, carrying food, etc.
NM: Where are your favourite places to look for tracks?
PG: My backyard for sure and then working at Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre gives me plenty of opportunity to look for tracks.
NM: What are the benefits of doing an activity like this?
PG: It is a great way to make being outdoors fun for all ages. You can learn a lot about what an animal was doing or even what animals are in the area by looking at the tracks.
NM: Is this an activity that is good for children?
PG: It is a great activity for children as the tracks don’t move and so you can spend time studying them without needing to be quick about it and you can follow them along to see where they go.
NM: Are there any safety concerns people should anticipate when looking for animal tracks? Or are their precautions people should take before heading out?
PG: I think the safety concerns would be the same for any outdoor activity where you might encounter wildlife: don’t approach any wildlife, let someone know where you are going and when you should be back, dress for the weather and bring a snack and something to drink.
NM: Is there anything else you think people should know about this topic?
PG: Be sure to have fun!