Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Mystery Tracks in the Snow

This is a guest blog by Eliza Perry, one of our Hubbard Fellows.  All photos are by Eliza.

Last week I needed to check the fences around one of our properties. I only needed to walk a quarter of it to see that we had a lot of work to do.

During my travels, I found two mysterious tracks that I hope you all can help me identify. I stumped even Chris! (YES)

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See those weird claw-like marks? There were only these three sets of them, and they
were next to a bunch of small, amorphous tracks.  The tracks were bigger than cat tracks and smaller than dog tracks.

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Here’s a closer shot.

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The next mystery was this long trail. Chris suggested it was a collapsed vole tunnel,
but it is linear and vole tunnels seem to fork into many different smaller
tunnels. To me, it looked like something was dragging its belly, like a snake.

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Here’s it is a little closer, at a point that does look like a collapsed tunnel. But the rest of it was just an indentation on the snow.

Do you have any ideas?

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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14 Responses to Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Mystery Tracks in the Snow

  1. Mike Henry says:

    I’m thinking raptor feathers for the things that look like claw marks.

  2. I would second the raptor feathers.

  3. Brian says:

    The claw-like marks certainly look like wing marks to me. Probably an owl at night swooping down to bag or nearly bag whatever made the small mammal tracks. Definitely look like wing tip/feather marks. I investigated a golden eagle/cottontail kill/breakfast site in Western Colorado this past January when I saw a pair of eagles take flight out of a snowy sagebrush patch. There were many wing marks in the snow from where the eagles attacked the rabbit, subdued it, and then ate everything but a skull cap of the prey Desert Cottontail.

  4. Jeff Hansen says:

    I’m thinking one of the owl species, hunting at night. Short eared owls love grasslands. Maybe a barn owl. The tunnel is some sort of rodent tunnel.

  5. Eliza says:

    Thanks, guys! I hadn’t thought of that. And you do think raptor wings can make such defined, narrow marks?

  6. Michelle says:

    I’m with the others about the raptor feathers making the claw-like tracks. We see this often around our prairie at home. And I agree with Chris – some sort of collapsed tunnel.

  7. Brian says:

    Most definitely the wing tips in unpacked, fluffy snow can make those marks. Here are some pictures from a little trail report I made with eagle wing marks in a fresh snow.

    http://www.expeditionutah.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3902

  8. Richard says:

    I’m with Chris: collapsed vole tunnel

  9. Carol Lynch says:

    Vole trail and raptor wing marks. I have seen similar linear vole trails on our property. The photos of the ‘claw marks’ looks like other photos I have seen of raptor wing marks. What great things to discover

  10. Sara says:

    According to my copy of Stokes Guide ot Animal Tracking by Donald and Lillian Stokes, tunnels in snow can be Rabbit, Weasel, Red Squirrel, Vole, Mouse and Shrew. Rabbits would be wider, about 6 inches. Weasels are generally shorter tunnels, to access the smaller animals under the snow. Red Squirrels like conifers so would not be out in the prairie. Mice mostly run over the snow, only occasionally tunnelling into it. That leaves Voles and Shrews. Voles are a little bigger, but all the tunnels widen as they start to melt. Voles sometimes dig up to the surface of the snow. In prairie, I’d pick Vole over Shrew.

  11. Bill Zales says:

    How about a fox dragging a pheasant? Bill

  12. Karen Hamburger says:

    Hey Elisa

    I have prints like these in my backyard all the time. Crows ambling through the snow and leaving wing prints when they take off.

  13. Danelle Haake says:

    Here is a blog entry from several years ago with photos of the tracks left behind when a Red-tailed hawk finds a mouse (or other small mammal) in the snow… Someone saw the hawk dive, so we know just which raptor left the tracks.

    http://www.litzsinger.org/hunting_hawk_le/

  14. Helen Hartman says:

    I asked a wildlife biologist in Wisconsin who said, “I am guessing some bird taking off on the first ones. It looks similar to the turkey sign I see near my house. Other is probably some small mammal moving along, possibly vole or maybe even weasel. Sometimes moles will travel through snow also. I would need to look at more views of it. Plus in Nebraska would include some other mammals we don’t have.”

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