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 and the webbed feet of a gull, to the interdigital pad of a badger.
Muddy paths, riverbanks and and woodlands are a great place to spot animal tracks, while winter snows create a fresh canvas for footprints, especially in open fields and along country roads and farm tracks.
Learn how to identify animal tracks in winter in the British countryside with our handy illustrated wildlife guide.
Why should I look for animal tracks?
Animal tracks are one of the first signs of wildlife (other than seeing or hearing the creature which can be challenging) which can give us a vital clue on the species we might find in the area. These signs can play an important role in wildlife conservation and fun to find.
How to hunt for wildlife animal tracks
You need a bit of good luck and patience to find animal tracks as they may not be instantly obvious. Visiting a local woodland or park after rain when the ground is muddy or after snow is a good time to look as they will be more easily visible. Take your time to slowly wander and don’t be afraid of crouching down for a better look at the edges of undergrowth.
To find out what animal species visit your garden each night, leave a tray filled with sand and see what prints are left behind in the morning.
How to identify winter wildlife tracks
6-8.5cm long, 6cm wide
Otter tracks are 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.
Roe deer tracks
4.5cm long, 3.5cm wide
Each deer foot has two slender and sharply pointed parallel cleaves. All deer species are rather similar, differing in size and, only very subtly, in shape.
Just six species of deer live in the British countryside, but it can often be difficult to tell which is which – learn all about these spectacular animals with our deer identification guide, plus discover the best places to see the autumn deer rut.
6cm long, 5-5.5cm wide
Badger tracks 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.
5-7cm long, 4-4.5cm wide
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.
3-6cm long (species vary)
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.
The fortunes of Britain’s seabirds are in decline, with climate change and overfishing reducing their food stocks, but you can still find teeming colonies on our coasts. Learn to identify some of the more common species found in the UK.
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.
1.8-2.5cm, hindfeet 3.3-2.8cm
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.
3-4.5cm long, 3.5-4cm wide
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.
Illustrations ©Brin Edwards