A lot of people don’t like winter because it can be hard to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Sure, you can ski, snowmobile, snowshoe, or ice fish. But, for some people, those activities are not easy or affordable. But, there are some activities that everyone can enjoy. Winter bird feeding is an easy and inexpensive way to enjoy the season. And so is looking for animal tracks.
Winter is a wonderful time to see animal tracks. As animals go about their business in the winter, the snow reveals their actions. By observing animal tracks in the winter, you can tell what animals are around, even if you don’t actually see them. In some cases, you can even tell where they’re going and what they’re doing.
To identify what tracks you’re seeing, it’s helpful to get a field guide. Then, take a look at the size of the tracks and their shape. Some tracks are very distinctive, such as deer tracks. Squirrel tracks have large “finger tips” because of the fat pads they have that help them climb trees. And, because rabbits have such furry feet, their tracks don’t usually have distinguishable toes at all. Raccoon prints look like tiny human hands, while opossums have tracks that look like monkey hands (with an opposable thumb). Even the tracks’ patterns can help you identify the critters. For instance, opossums often drag their tails and rabbits hop, so their tracks are usually in groups of four.
If you follow the tracks you find, you can learn about where the animals were going, or what they were doing. Squirrel tracks going to a tree may indicate a winter nest in that tree. Do rabbit tracks disappear under your deck or under a shrub? Rabbits probably taking shelter there.
Be sure to look for other animal signs in the snow, as well. Birds also leave tracks, especially around feeders. And, if you see small dime to quarter size holes in the snow, those are probably made by shrews, or possibly mice. They live in tunnels in and under the snow during the winter and you can often see these tunnels where they emerge from the snow. If you’re patient, you may even see a tiny shrew or mouse ducking in and out of the holes. And, finally, animal droppings are also good signs that there are animals around and can often be observed along with the tracks.
So, if you’re looking for an easy and inexpensive way to enjoy winter, just take a short walk and see what secrets the snow can reveal. You may be surprised at all the activity out there, even during the coldest days of the year.