How Do You Know What Tracks Are Left by What Animal?

One way to identify animal tracks is to compare the tracks you see on the ground with examples in a field guide, such as the "National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Animal Tracks." This guide provides line drawings of different tracks and hints on how to differentiate between species.

Wildlife trackers can identify animal prints by their shape, size, depth and other features. In some cases, animals of different species may have similar-looking prints. For example, white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and wild boar all have cloven hooves. This can make identifying a cloven-hoofed track problematic; however, if you familiarize yourself with the slight differences between each of these animals' prints, you are more likely to make the correct determination.

Owl and woodpecker prints are among the easiest bird prints to identify because they have a zygodactyl foot structure. This means that two of the toes point forward and two point backward; it makes owls and woodpeckers distinct from most other birds, which have three toes pointing forward and one pointing back. Owl pellets in close proximity to zygodactyl prints can help confirm that a set of tracks belongs to an owl; nearby woodpecker holes could indicate a woodpecker.

Use clues around the tracks to help identify what made them; for example, look for scat or animal droppings on the ground. Examine the environment for hair, fur or feathers that a creature may have left behind. Limit the list of possibilities to animals commonly found in the habitat near the tracks. For example, it may be rare for residents to see wolves in certain parts of the country, while coyotes and dogs may be plentiful. Apply this type of knowledge to eliminate unlikely species while tracking.