Animal Tracks and Other Wildlife Signs

Watching for animal tracks and signs of wildlife leads to amazing finds in the animal kingdom.

| January/February 2010

Last October, for the first time in the history of the state, Kansas received documented proof – in the form of a deer hunter’s photograph – of a mountain lion population. To those throughout the state who’ve lived in rural areas most of our lives, this came as no surprise.

When I was a boy, Momma always spoke of the shrill, blood-curdling screams she heard in the woods south of our farm house, and without a doubt she attributed the sounds to this secretive creature. I have never seen or heard one, but stories from farm folk in middle America were all the evidence I ever really needed (and the documented populations in all states surrounding Kansas helped, too).

No matter where you live in North America, or in the world, for that matter, it’s useful and gratifying to know what critters are hanging around your property. If you’re not paying attention to the various forms of wildlife signs that animals leave, you should start. These signs indicate where and when to head out with the camera, what is helping itself to the beans in the garden, and what is leaving all of those vague footprints down by the creek where your children play.

Look to the food source

Paul Rezendes, author of Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign, among other books, a freelance nature stock photographer and one of North America’s leading animal tracking experts, looks to what vegetation is or isn’t present as one of the first indicators of herbivores (which naturally leads to carnivorous species).

He illustrates the point by using as an example one predominant wildlife fixture, the whitetail deer. Rezendes can give a ballpark figure for the number of whitetail deer per square mile in his native Northeast, just by spending some time in the woods and looking at the abundance of American yew shrubs and sprouts, sprouting oak and red maple, and elderberry, among other things.

“You don’t need to see one track, you don’t need to see one deer-dropping cluster,” Rezendes says, “all you need to do is look at the vegetation.”

6/24/2014 9:57:06 AM

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