Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

ID Guide

December - Winter Tracks and Signs 

Many animals can be hard to spot at this time of year, so looking for signs in muddy or snowy areas is a good way to see what animals are out and about. Here we look at some of the common tracks you may come across. Download our ID guide our field guide for riverside tracks and signs to take with you and identify the species you see; don't forget to submit your sightings via Living Record


Otter tracks, WSBRC
Otter - Lutra lutra
look closely at the ground around rivers for a print with 5 digits and an almost round pad. If the ground is very soft you may see evidence of webbing between the digits. Spraints smell sweet, like jasmine tea. They are distinctive greenish black/ grey.


Mink tracks, WSBRC
Mink - Mustela vison Tracks
can be found along riverbanks, streams and lakes. Their tracks show toes on both front and hind feet along with pad markings. The stride length of their tracks is 12-26 inches apart and both hind and forefeet prints almost touch. Mink scats smell like burnt rubber and look greenish black/brown.


Badger track, WSBRC
Badger - Meles meles
Badger tracks are quite easy to identify. Look for five digits and a large kidney-shaped pad. Badgers have powerful front feet and large claws for digging which are easy to see in their footprints. Badgers usually stick to the same trails, so it should be easy to make regular tracking sessions. 



Fox track, WSBRC
Fox - Vulpes vulpes
Fox tracks are similar to dog tracks, but far more compact. The print has four digits with the outer two curved towards the inner ones. The tracks show the claws and the pads clearly and are symmetrical making it impossible to tell between a left and right foot
Water Vole tracks, WSBRC
Water Vole - Arvicola amphibius
the difference in size between the tracks of the fore-foot and hind-foot (between 20-25mm long) is quite distinctive. Tracks are very similar to those of the Brown Rat so it helps to be familiar with those to tell the two apart. Water Vole droppings are cylindrical shaped and odourless.





Brown Rat tracks, WSBRC
Brown Rat - Rattus norvegicus
there are a number of pads that are visible in the tracks. The claw marks usually show. The hind footprint has a long heel, between 30-45mm, which is often visible. Droppings have a strong foul smell of rancid food. They are blackish in colour.    



Shrew tracks, WSBRC
Shrews -
Their tracks can be seen in fine mud along banks of rivers and lakes, but most easily spotted in snow. Whenever ground is soft enough to reveal tracks, the full hand outline is almost always visible. They can be distinguished by the five toes on each fore-foot.







Woodmouse, field vole etc tracks, WSBRC
Woodmouse, Field Voles etc
Tracks are often seen in snow, and on these occasions animals tend to jump, this means the footprints lie close together in groups. There is also usually a clear drag mark made by the long tail. 



Dog paw print, WSBRC
Dogs -
Dog paw prints can be easily mistaken for other species, such as the Fox. Dogs have four toes on each foot; look for claw marks on the end of each toe. The bottom line of the heel pad will reveal a double hump.
Domestic cat print, WSBRC
Domestic cats -
Cat paw prints generally have four toes and one paw pad for each print, there are usually no claws as cats keep their claws retracted. The back portion of the paw pad has three lobes and usually leaves a smaller print than that of the front paw. Also, front paw’s paw pad has straight sides while the back paw’s paw pad has sides that are slightly curved inward.
Rabbit track
Rabbit - Oryctolagus cuniculus -
Rabbit tracks are most easily found close to their burrows or feeding areas. The rabbit track is easy to identify as the hind legs leave long exaggerated imprints. Rabbits leave very distinctive tracks, with the rear feet making sausage shaped marks in the ground and the front two feet being staggered one in front of the other.