Snow Tracking

Happy New Year to Wild Suburbia Participants!

We hope you have been enjoying the frigid winter temperatures and the beautiful snow we have gotten this season by getting outside! Fresh snow on the ground is a great excuse to snowshoe, sled, ski or to follow animal tracks in your backyard. We have posted some photos of animal tracks here, but first wanted to inform you about upcoming events in Wild Suburbia.   
We have two informational workshops coming up this month. Feel free to come ask us questions, learn more about the project, the animals, and don’t forget to bring your friends!
  • January 11th @ 10am-12pm located at the Armstrong Education Center, Pound Ridge Land Conservancy (located at 1361 Old Post Rd, Pound Ridge, NY)
  • January 12th @ 7-9pm located at the Pound Ridge Library (located at 271 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge, NY)
Wild Suburbia will also have a booth set up at Teatown’s Hudson River Eaglefest which takes place on February 8th (snow date is the 9th). If you plan on coming, make sure to stop by our booth to get more information!

The maps were again updated mid-December with a few new sightings and no sightings reported. Remember that your reports of no sightings in your backyard are just as important as reporting a sighting. By reporting that you have not seen an animal on your property tells us something about its distribution as well. Sighting or no sighting, all the information is valuable for analysis of the data.

We wanted to again thank you for your continued reports. Keep up the good work and please tell your friends about the project!

Snow Tracking in your Backyard
You can learn a lot about animal behavior, habits and ecology just by following animal tracks in the snow! For example, you may learn about preferred habitat, food preference, or how quickly it travels through certain areas. Below are some pictures of snow tracks of our 5 target species (coyote, bear, bobcat, fox, fisher).

Identifying an animal by its tracks is tricky and they can often be mistaken for something else. For this reason, please DO NOT REPORT A SIGHTING BASED ON TRACK IDENTIFICATION. Only submit a sighting if you have visual confirmation of the animal.

General notes on tracks: Bobcat, coyote and red fox have four toes that register (leave prints) in the snow (the fifth is reduced on their inner legs, like that of your house cat or dog). All five toes of the black bear and fisher may register in the snow.

General notes on gaits: Animals will use different gaits, or patterns of movement, depending on their body structure, whether they are hunting, moving quickly through an area, exploring, etc. Walks, trots, lopes, gallops, hops and bounds are all methods of describing how an animal moves. Many of the photos we provide here show walks (slow), trots (faster) or lopes (fast). Direct register walks, trots or lopes describe a movement where the rear foot lands exactly where the front foot had been. We also provide some pictures of overstep walks in which the rear foot lands beyond where the front had been. Direct register is more commonly used than overstep in deep snow.   

To learn more about identifying animal tracks, we recommend looking into Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species by Mark Elbroch, and Peterson Field Guides to Animal Tracks by Olaus Murie.

Coyote tracks

Coyote tracks are similar to dog and fox tracks. Looking at behavior and a few key features of tracks and trails can help to differentiate the species.

Coyote tracks range in size (a), but are typically larger than fox. Dog tracks can be the same size, smaller or larger than your average coyote track, depending on the breed of dog. Dog tracks are usually splayed with thick, blunt claws and toes pointing in four different directions. Alternatively, the toes of coyote feet are close together, revealing a tighter track than dogs. Four claws can register in a coyote track, but often only the front two will be evident (b) and point towards each other. Claws are also sharp and pointed on a coyote.

Coyotes are social animals so it is common to find more than one coyote trail in the snow though a single animal may be found occasionally. Coyote and fox trails tend to be narrower and straighter (c) than dogs as they conserve energy by not wandering aimlessly like many dogs will.

(a) Sketch of coyote track and dimensions. Photo from Beartracker's Animal Track Guide
(b) Single coyote track in snow. Photo from Alice Van Zoeren & Sandhill Nature Education.

(c) Direct register trot of a coyote. Note narrow trail and straight movement. Photo from Roger Lupton on Flickr.
Red fox tracks
Red fox tracks are similar to coyote and dog tracks (see coyote track description). The front foot is slightly larger than the rear (a). In the winter, the fur on the foot surface of a red fox can be thick, which blurs the tracks considerably. In (b), the tracks are fairly distinct with the claws on the front toes registering in the snow.
Their natural rhythm of movement is a trot. Depicted in (a) is a direct register trot. In (c), the red fox is using an overstep walk.
Fox can hear their prey moving below the snow surface. It’s not uncommon to come across tracks such as (d) in which the fox pounced on prey. In this instance, the fox pounced twice, possibly missing its target the first time.
Interesting fact: Red fox urine smells like skunk spray. Gray fox urine smells like old cheese. These hints can be helpful when trying to identify tracks you are following.
(a) Drawing of fox prints and direct register trot pattern. Photo from Toronto and Region Conservation.

(b) Red fox tracks in snow. Photo from Walnut Hill Tracking & Nature Center.

(c) Overstep walk of a red fox. Photo from Kawing Crow Tracking.

(d) Tracks left by a red fox hunting for prey in the snow. It pursued prey under the snow in two instances in this photo. Photo from Wildwood Tracking.

Bobcat tracks
Unlike coyote and fox, the claws of a bobcat rarely register in the snow except on slippery surfaces or when climbing. The four toes that register are more upfront (a) than that of fox and coyote where the two toes on the sides are more behind the front two. Because of the amount of fur on bobcat feet, snow displacement from a track (b) can be 3 inches in width and length.

Bobcats also use the direct register walk in deep snow (c). If you follow bobcat tracks you may come across a spot where the animal sat down on its haunches leaving a similar print to that depicted in (d). This is often done when the bobcat is hunting and has a good view of an area.

(a) Drawing of bobcat tracks. Note that claws rarely register in tracks. Photo from Beartracker's Animal Track Guide.

(b) Bobcat track in 5 inch deep snow. Note the amount of snow displaced along the edge of the tracks due to thick fur on the feet and legs. Photo taken at Teatown Lake Reservation.

(c) Bobcat direct register walk in deep snow. Photo taken at Teatown Lake Reservation.

(d) Bobcat sat down in the snow. Photo from Alderleaf Wilderness College.

Fisher tracks
Fisher tracks can be confused with other members of the weasel family including otter and mink. In this family the rear feet land and push off simultaneously or nearly so. The direct register loping pattern shown in (a) and (d) is typical for fisher moving quickly through an area with deep snow; the rear feet land where the front feet were and are not quite parallel to each other. Numerous other patterns exist depending on the speed at which the animal is travelling, the depth of the snow, and its purpose in an area.

All five toes and claws can register in snow tracks for fisher (b and c). The thick fur on the bottom of the feet can distort tracks to an extent.

(a) Sketch of fisher tracks, trail and scat with dimensions. Photo from Cape Cod Wildlife Calling Guide Service.

(b) Rear tracks landing almost directly in the tracks of the front feet. Photo from Duluth News Tribune.

(c) Fisher track in deep snow. Photo taken at Teatown Lake Reservation.

(d) Direct register lope of a fisher moving quickly through deep snow. Photo from Teatown Lake Reservation.

Black bear tracks
The palms and toes of black bear feet regularly register in the snow, but the heels may not always register. In (a), the rear foot is showing the heel while the front is not. Claws on the front feet are longer than the rear feet, but claw length varies from bear to bear and may not always register in the snow. Bears use the overstep walk in shallow (b) and direct register in deep (c) snow.

(a) Sketch of black bear tracks. Size of foot will vary depending on whether heel registers in the snow. Photo from Beartracker's Animal Track Guide.

(b) Black bear overstep walk in shallow snow. Photo from North American Bear Center.

(c) Black bear direct register walk in deep snow. Photo from North American Bear Center.