When animals travel through the soil, snow, or mud, they leave behind traces of their movements. These imprints can tell us a lot about the animals that made them—from what they are to what they were doing. When looking for animal tracks, it is best to search for clearly defined prints in areas where the ground may be soft or snow-covered.
If you find animal tracks, the next step is identifying them:
2-toed tracks, such as deer
3-toed tracks, such as birds
4-toed tracks, such as cats, dogs, or rabbits
5-toed tracks, such as beavers or raccoons
After identifying the animal tracks, you can follow them to learn more about where and how the animal moves. Look for specific patterns that demonstrate the gait of the animal and measure the distance between prints. You can also use non-track clues such as droppings or chewed vegetation to follow the animal’s path.
Look for These Animal Tracks
There are many exciting creatures in the Pacific Northwest, so search for signs of these animals on your hike.
Cougar or Bobcat: Cat and dog tracks both have four toes, but the main differences between cat and dog tracks are the number of lobes on the paw pads and the presence of claw marks. Cat prints such as cougars or bobcats will have two lobes and leave no claw marks, whereas dog prints will only have one lobe and leave claw marks.
Deer: Deer tracks look like hooves and have two toes. Deer are classified as diagonal walkers, meaning they move opposite sides of their body at the same time—for example, their front right and back left feet.
Duck: If you see a three-toed print with an outline between each toe, you are likely looking at the webbed foot of a duck track. Ducks usually walk or run, so they will leave behind single, regularly spaced footprints.
Raccoon: Raccoons have five toes on their front and rear feet, causing their prints to look like little hands with claws—great for grabbing fish out of the water. They are classified as pacers, meaning their front and back feet on each side of their bodies move at the same time.
Rabbit: When searching for animal tracks, you may notice that rabbit tracks have a distinct galloping pattern. This means that their larger hind feet land ahead of their front feet when they are walking or running.
Nutria or Muskrat: Muskrats and nutria are small mammals with five-toed paws and long, thin tails. Like beavers, muskrats leave distinct tracks with some webbing marks—but the telltale difference is just that: their tails. Muskrats and nutria have much thinner, rounder tails than beavers, resulting in a deep, thin line between their paw prints.