News  Get to know animal tracks

Gain a deeper appreciation for Massachusetts wildlife by learning to identify animal tracks. Use MassWildlife’s track card to find out what’s been scampering through your backyard this winter.
  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

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coyote tracks

Wild animals are experts at staying out of sight. Yet the winter snow and mud can reveal a detailed account of the comings and goings of even the most secretive animals. Whether you’re wandering secluded forests and fields or taking a walk in your suburban neighborhood, watch for tracks to learn about wildlife in the area.

As with birdwatching, tree identification, or any other area of nature study, learning to identify tracks takes some practice. Start by getting familiar with common animal tracks. Use MassWildlife’s animal track card as a guide to tracks you may encounter here in Massachusetts.

wildlife track card

Identifying animal tracks is much easier if the conditions are right. Tracks left in snow that has partially melted can become distorted and are difficult to decipher. Loose or dry snow can also be a problem since it doesn’t hold track details. Look for tracks in fresh snow that’s not too deep or in mud for the most accurate print.

In addition to the tracks themselves, pay attention to the pattern of tracks on the ground. For example, deer, bobcats, house cats, and canines (dogs, coyotes, foxes) place their hind foot into—or nearly into—the track left by their foot to form a diagonal pattern and a narrow trail. Rabbits and gray squirrels gallop or hop, while members of the weasel family (otter, fisher, and mink) bound. Learning about distinctive track patterns (which you can find on the track card) can help with identification and help you gain a deeper understanding of the lives of these animals.  

You can use tracks along with other clues like bits of fur, scat, or signs of digging to get more information about what the animal was going. Watching for tracks and other evidence of wildlife activity can add some fun and a little bit of mystery to your next winter walk. Use the links below to find more ways to enjoy the outdoors this winter:

  • 5 must-read tips for winter birdwatching
    Winter can be a great time to view common backyard birds as well as unusual birds overwintering here in Massachusetts.
  • Learn where to look for bald eagles
    Bald eagles are active in winter with courtship and nest building. Get tips for where to find them and how to observe without disturbing the eagles.
  • Explore a Wildlife Management Area near you
    MassWildlife manages nearly 230,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas that provide habitat for wildlife and give people a place to explore natural landscapes (there are no maintained trails). WMAs are open to the public for hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing.

Media Contact   for Get to know animal tracks

  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 

    MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.
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