If you love hiking near your cottage, winter and spring are the prime seasons for spotting animal tracks—and learning how to identify them. After all, snowy fields and soft muddy trails provide the perfect blank canvas for woodland wanderers.
Here are seven common predator tracks you might spot in the Canadian wild, plus some tips on how to differentiate them.
Size: Since a bear’s entire paw pad can leave an impression, their track is one of the largest of the predators. The front prints of a black bear are about five by five inches, while hind prints are up to eight inches in length.
Key characteristics: Although bears have five toes on each foot—with the largest toe on the outside—the smallest inner toe does not always leave a print. Unlike grizzly bears, the shorter claws of the black bear may not leave an impression in the ground. Toe imprints will also be curved and spaced further apart than a grizzly’s.
Size: Larger than a black bear, a grizzly’s front paw tracks range from five to seven inches in length, while their rear paws imprint is between 10 and 12 inches in length.
Key characteristics: Unlike black bears, the long claws of a grizzly will often be clearly visible in the track. Toe imprints will also be straighter, closer together, and usually touching.
Size: The biggest cat in Canada, both front and back cougar prints will appear up to four inches by four inches.
Key characteristics: The cougar’s asymmetrical elongated paw print will display four toe pads in a semi-circle, with no visible claws. While very similar to the lynx, the gait of a cougar is slow and deliberate, resulting in prints that leave a clear impression in the snow or mud. They typically walk in straight or deliberate lines, which may run to trees, and there may be a tail pattern dragging in the deep snow.
Size: Both front and back prints of a lynx will appear approximately three inches by three inches, although they can be as large as a cougar’s. With paws out of proportion to their body size, the lynx has much larger paw prints than its close cousin, the bobcat.
Key characteristics: While similar in shape and size to cougar tracks, the lynx’s footpads are covered in dense hair that prevents them from sinking as deeply into the snow. These wild cats are also smaller, resulting in a shorter stride. Their trails tend not be in a straight line and are found in deeper snow higher in the mountains.
Size: Front paws (not including claw marks) will be up to five inches in length and four inches across, while hind prints are slightly smaller.
Characteristics: A wolf’s print includes four toe pads, a triangular heel pad, and claw marks that show a drag. But how do you know that the print doesn’t belong to your neighbour’s massive German Shepard? Size is an obvious clue (wolf tracks will be larger) but also consider habitat—if you’re close to civilization, it’s probably a dog. Wolves also often travel in packs, so a single set of tracks may also be an indication that they belong to a dog or coyote.
Size: Front paws (not including claw marks) are up to three inches in length and 2.5 inches across, while hind prints will be slightly smaller.
Characteristics: Unlike a domestic dog, coyotes have symmetrical footprints, with four toe pads and visible claw prints. They will also be more oval and elongated than a domestic dog.