How to identify animal tracks

Updated April 10, 2017

Identifying animal tracks is a wildlife tracking skill that is useful in hunting, avoiding predators and simply getting to know the lifestyle. Tracks, like other signs of life in the wild, can give insight into what animals exist in an area from the smallest birds to the largest bears. Learning to identify tracks can be easy to learn and will improve with practice with every adventure into the wild.

Examine the track closely using a magnifying glass or by taking a photograph. Note as many details as you possibly can as they will play a role in track identification.

Note details about the shape of the track. Shapes that resemble hands and feet are indicative of most mammals. Mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian tracks are all distinctive in shape. Also note whether there are differences in front and back feet.

Judge the size of the track. The relative size of tracks in the wild can indicate whether you are dealing with a small animal like a mouse, a medium-sized animal like a river otter or a badger, or something larger such as a coyote, mountain lion or a wild pig.

Count the number of toes in mammal tracks and judge whether the toe pads are connected to the foot pads. Raccoon tracks look like small human hand prints without breaks between the toes and main part of each foot. Coyote, mountain lion and bobcat tracks have four separate toes, while animals like striped skunks and river otters have five small toes.

Pay attention to the size, shape and configuration of hooflike tracks to identify deer and other hoofed animals. Wild pigs have large rounded hoof tracks, while most deer have distinct hoof tracks with different configurations lending to their identification.

Consult your field guide to compare the details you noted to possible animals in your area. Narrow the identification by broad categories first, then by distinct details like claw and toe shapes until you find the animal whose tracks you have encountered.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Field guide
  • Camera
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jennifer Uhl has been writing professionally since 2005. She writes primarily for the web and has been published as a ghostwriter in "Tropical Fish Magazine" and "Entrepreneur." She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in health care from Mira Costa College.