Snow tracking: What to look for and why tracks are there
Spend time outside with youth this winter exploring animal tracks.
Winter has arrived in Michigan, which significantly changes what we do outside. Skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing are all great options for winter fun. However, consider snow tracking as an easy way to get youth engaged outside. Snow tracking can be done almost anywhere and requires no special equipment.
There are lots of animals that can be tracked in winter. Many of them can be located near your home whether you are in an urban or rural area. Tracks of deer, squirrels, coyote, mice, weasels (ermine), many birds and rabbits are common and can be located in many places throughout Michigan. Other, less common animals can be found, but require some travel to find the appropriate habitat. Tracks of fisher, bobcat and wolves can be a challenge to locate, but may bring you to some rewarding locations. Don’t overlook tracking dogs and cats too!
Tracks tell us a lot about animal behavior. Tracks tell us where animals have been, but they can’t tell us where an animal is going. You can figure that out by following the tracks. Along the way we can think about where the tracks are going and guess what the animal was doing on its journey. Is the animal looking for food? What are they eating? Is there more than one animal? Why did the animal come this way? These and more questions are out there for the answering when you track animals.
Some tracks may be difficult to identify. Guides books are available to help, such as the “Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks.” These books can alleviate the guesswork when trying to identify tracks. Guides can help the difference between the track of a coyote, fox or other similar species. The type of snow can make a difference when trying to identifying tracks. Tracks in light, fluffy snow may not be crisp images, making identification difficult. However, tacks in hard, packed snow may not leave much of an image at all. Other tracks may have the snow melted, erasing features needed for identification, but try anyway. Speculation is part of the fun. Don’t be afraid to guess!
Be sure to dress for the weather. Venturing out in winter can be a challenge and at times a dangerous situation. When the temperature is near 0 degrees Fahrenheit or if wind chills make it feel even colder, consider waiting for a warmer day. Proper boots are a must. Mittens are warmer than gloves, but either will do. A jacket and pants that shed snow are important to keep dry. Most body heat escapes through your head, so wear a good hat. Wool is a great insulator even when wet. Nylon and synthetic fabrics shed snow and water. There are two rules to remember in winter weather: don’t get wet and don’t over-perspire. These are guaranteed ways to get cold and ruin your outing.
Tracking in snow is an interesting and fun activity for youth. It can help add excitement to many during a long winter day. Searching for tracks in the snow allows youth an opportunity to explore, ask questions and try something new. Consider taking youth outdoors for some tracking in the snow!
Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H science: Asking questions and discovering answers. Please contact me at email@example.com for ideas on spending time outdoors with youth.
Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”