A snow-covered landscape offers a pristine canvas for discovering the hidden movements of a host of wild creatures. Head out early into a woodland following a recent snowfall, for example, and you could gain a real insight into the wildlife that lives there.

Look carefully on the ground as you walk and you’re likely to come across a variety of animal tracks as you explore

Foxes are especially active in mid winter, so they’re a good starting point on your animal tracking expedition. During December and January, males travel widely outside their usual ranges to find vixens to mate with. Fox pawprints are similar in appearance to a dog’s, consisting of a roughly triangular-shaped heel pad below four toe pads. Claw marks can sometimes be seen above each toe too.

Fox and dog prints can be differentiated by their shape – fox prints are narrower – and also by their distribution. Fox tracks tend to go in largely straight, purposeful lines, whereas dog tracks are usually more erratic and scattered. 

During the breeding season, foxes become a lot more vocal too, and you may be woken in the middle of a wintry night by the sounds of their courtship! Their loud calls are thought to help them to locate each other. Females indicate that they are ready to mate by making loud shrieking noises, and males respond with a triple bark.

Fox tracks in snow

Fox tracks

Badgers are much less active during winter, but will still venture out occasionally to forage for food, so if you’re lucky you may come across their prints.

Look for their distinctive tracks around setts and you can see where they’ve been during their nocturnal wanderings. Pawprints have a large rear pad topped with five toe pads. Claw marks above each toe are visible too.

During very cold weather, the black and white mammals often go into a state of torpor – a kind of short-term hibernation to conserve energy stores. During this time, badgers remain in their setts and experience a fall in body temperature and metabolic rate. Squirrels also do this, and can spend days at a time in their nest, only emerging to seek out the food they stored during autumn.

Badger tracks

Squirrels are expert at preparing for the cold season. As well as burying caches of high-energy nuts to feast on when natural food is scarce, they also winter-proof their homes. Squirrels have a summer home and a winter home. During the the warmer months, they live in a round, football-sized nest made from interwoven twigs and leaves, and lined with mosses. As the temperature falls, this nest is either abandoned or modified, and given a much tighter, thicker structure, to protect its inhabitants from the elements.

Unsurprisingly, squirrel tracks usually start and finish at the base of a tree. Back paw prints are about 45 mm long and consist of a narrow heel and five long and narrow toes. Front paws are smaller - about 35 mm long - with four toes.

Another common track to look out for in woodlands or across fields are those of a rabbit. Rabbit tracks consist of two long prints side by side (the hind paws, which strike the ground first as they move) and two smaller prints behind them.

Rabbit tracks in snow

Rabbit tracks

You can even find out which animals are visiting your garden – usually when you’re fast asleep - by creating a footprint ‘trap’ to collect imprints. Fill a large tray with fine, moist sand and leave a bowl of meat-based pet food in the middle. Any creatures visiting for a snack will leave their prints in the sand, ready for you to identify! 

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