Winter animal tracks

The muddy footpaths of the countryside are the perfect canvas for animal hoof, paw and footprints – spot some of Britain’s most common winter tracks with our ID guide  

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Winter is one of the best times to look for signs of life in the countryside. Turn your gaze to the ground and you’ll spot evidence all around you, from the pronounced claw prints of a mink to the interdigital pad of a badger.

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Here’s our guide to eight of the easiest tracks to identify this winter.

1

Otter

6-8.5cm long, 6cm wide

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Easy to spot if webbing is visible. This is round in shape, with five toe prints arcing around a large inter-digital pad. Short claws project directly from the digits. Relive otter-expert Simon Cooper’s thrilling otter encounter at Chilbolton Cow Common in Hampshire.

2

Roe deer

4.5cm long, 3.5cm wide

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Each foot has two slender and sharply pointed parallel cleaves. All deer species are rather similar, differing in size and, only very subtly, in shape. Learn more our Britain’s deer here.

3

Badger

6cm long, 5-5.5cm wide

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This can sometimes look like a small human handprint. All five toes radiate in front of the large interdigital pad. Long claws leave marks well in front of the digits. Learn more about these nocturnal mammals with out top 10 badger facts.

4

Fox

5-7cm long, 4-4.5cm wide

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These prints show four distinctly oval toes, two of which are obviously in front. The back print, the interdigital pad, is the same size as the rest. Check out film-maker Dora Nightingale’s encounter with two young foxes here.

5

Gull

3-6cm long (species vary)

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The three front toes are joined by webs with a straight front edge. The toes diverge in a straight line. Note the claws projecting from the toes. Check out our article ‘Beauty or bandit: why are we at war with seagulls?’

6

Pheasant

6-8cm long

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Birds tend to leave prints that look like arrowheads. The pheasant is large and heavy, so its print is clear and even. Found in farmland and woodland. After spotting their prints, get to know the pheasant even better by collecting one of their feathers and drawing it.

7

Rat

1.8-2.5cm, hindfeet 3.3-2.8cm

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Rodent tracks show four toes on the forefeet. Hindfeet show five toes and a long heel. Water voles are similar, but have more splayed toes and a short heel.

8

Mink

3-4.5cm long, 3.5-4cm wide

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Much smaller than those of the otter, less rounded and more star-shaped. The claws are longer and usually make a sharp imprint beyond the digits.

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Main image and illustrations ©Brin Edwards