One of my favorite things to do outside is to walk along the creek near our house. It winds through woods and grassy areas and attracts wildlife of all kinds. We have seen minnow, frogs, crayfish, turtles, the occasional great blue heron, beaver, mink, raccoon, opossum, white tail deer….lots of creatures.
We don’t see animals every time we visit the creek, but we do always find something just as exciting in the soft earth beside the water – animal tracks!
Animal tracks are sometimes more interesting than seeing the animal itself. They turn us from observers to investigators. Instead of just sitting and watching an often fleeting glimpse of the animal, we can be actively engaged in the study of the animal. How?
3 Steps of Animal Track Investigations
Tracks tell a story. They tell about an animal’s habits and territory. It’s up to those investigating those track to put the story together step by step.
First, we have to identify the tracks. We need to know who made them. You may know the tracks of local animals enough to instantly identify them. If you need help with track identification, there are several good books and websites to check out:
- Folding Pocket Guide To Tracks (great to keep in your pocket or pack)
- Tracks, Scat, and Signs
- Peterson Guide To Animal Tracks
- Track Finder
Every good investigator collects data. Your data is the track itself, where it is found, and any evidence nearby. Take pictures or make sketches of the tracks. Make notes of where the tracks are found. Did you find them near a creek or pond? Were they in the woods or in a grassy area? Did you find tracks in your backyard or garden?
Sometimes there is animal scat near the tracks. Many track guides include animal scat, also. This could help you identify the tracks. There, also, might be evidence of what the animal was eating nearby. We often find mussel shells along the shore of our lake with some tracks. Those shells are a telltale sign of raccoons getting their dinner.
Finish The Story
The final step in putting together our story is to determine why the tracks are there? Use the data that you have collected to come up with a hypothesis. You might conclude that the deer whose tracks you found along the lakeshore were there to get a drink. The tracks in the garden where you found nibbled leaves might be from a rabbit getting breakfast. Your investigation is complete.
Animal Track Journal
Do your kids keep a nature journal? Animal track investigations are great to add to journals. They might want to keep a separate Animal Track Investigation Journal. There they can collect their data, write their hypotheses, and create art or a story to go along with their findings.
Next time you are out in nature, look down. Find tracks and start your investigation.
What kinds of animals do you see where you live?