Wildlife Tracking 101: How many toes?

Did you know you can separate animal footprints, also called tracks based on how many toes you see? There are many variables that can affect how many toes show up, ground type, speed of the animal, and age of the track. But if you can count the number of toes you see, you are on your way to identifying what animal made that track!

One toe: Equines which include horses, donkeys, mules evolved to walk on one toe. So if you see a track with one large horseshoe shaped hoof print it is an equine. 

Two toes:

Ungulates like deer, elk, javelina, goats, sheep, cattle and many more have cloven hooves. The two halves of the hoof register as two distinct marks in the ground. Sometimes if there is deep mud or snow, two hind dewclaws may register but not all the time.

Four toes: 

Canines, cats, and birds all have four toes. Canine and cat tracks look very similar, but bird tracks have a very distinct pattern. Some large birds like turkeys and herons will only have three large toes register on the ground but the 4th is still there, just not visible.

Five toes:

 Bears, skunks, opossums, coati, lizards, amphibians; basically anything else that doesn’t have 1,2, or 4 toes will have five toes! This group takes the longest to ID as many animals have five toes that will show on the ground. The next step you would take is to use size to help determine what type of animal made that track. For example, bears would have a very large 5-toed track, but a raccoon would have a smaller 5-toed track.

The best place to learn more about animal tracking is to register for our Wildlife Tracking Workshop taking place in November, or come to the Borderlands Festival. Additionally, Mark Elbroch’s book Mammal Tracks and Sign is a great resource to start tracking. 

Count the Toes!

Sources and other Helpful Resources 

Animal Tracks Identification Guide

10+ Naturalist Resources for Identifying Wildlife

Nature Tracking

Mark Elbroch Books