Have you ever been out in the snow and wondered whether the tracks you’re seeing are made by squirrels or some other animal?
Squirrel tracks are some of the most commonly found tracks in the winter woods. They’re also quite easy to identify in snow when you know what to look for.
So let’s cover everything you’ll need to identify squirrel tracks in snow.
Squirrels bound along their trails in short hops and leave boxy clumps of tracks spaced apart approximately every 1-3 feet.
The two hind feet land together at the front of each track set and are slightly larger than the front feet, which land in a staggered way behind them.
This trail pattern can be similar to other bounding animals like rabbits and mice, however there are several key track details, trail characteristics and overall size differences that help you confidently tell them apart.
Squirrel Track Details In Snow
Whenever you have clear tracks, start by looking carefully at the toes.
Squirrels have toes that are distinctly long and fingerlike, which is a major difference between squirrels and other common animals like rabbits.
In shallow or wet snow, squirrel tracks often contain lots of clear detail including toes, nails & heel pads.
If you count the toes, you’ll notice that squirrels have 4 toes on their front feet and 5 on their hinds. The three middle toes on the squirrel hind foot track are all distinctly on the same plane.
Note the sharp nails that can be seen in both the front and hind feet of this gray squirrel track in snow.
These nails are used to climb trees and gives the track a distinctly different appearance from non-climbing animals like rabbits.
When you have clear tracks, also look for 2 small heel impressions at the back of the squirrel’s front feet.
This doubled heel is a useful track characteristic for discerning the difference between squirrels and weasels. Weasels only have 1 heel pad.
Squirrel Trails In Snow: Identification Without Track Details
Even if you can’t see clear footprints, squirrel trails are distinct enough that it’s possible to identify them by the overall shape, size and other trail features.
Squirrel tracks come in sets of 4, and may blend together in deep snow into a squarish shape that looks a little bit wider on the front than it does at the back.
Because squirrels live in trees, one of the best ways to identify their trails is simply to follow them a short distance. It usually doesn’t take long before squirrel trails lead you directly to the base of a tree.
In contrast to this, rabbits and hares go around trees, making their trails fairly easy to discern from squirrels.
Key Differences Between Squirrel Tracks And Rabbit Tracks In Snow
The most obvious difference between squirrel and rabbit tracks is the relationship of their front and hind foot placements.
Squirrel tracks are about as wide as they are long, while rabbits tend to stretch out their two front feet, giving their track sets a much more drawn-out “one-one-two” appearance (shown above).
Rabbits have 5 toes on all feet and their hairy pads make their tracks much less detailed than squirrels. You typically will not be able to easily count individual toes on most rabbit tracks except in ideal substrates.
Squirrel trails almost always move to trees, while rabbits will skirt between them.
Some species like snowshoe hares are also significantly larger than squirrels, which is another easy way to identify them.
Rabbits also frequently leave small m&m sized droppings along their trails. Squirrels do not do this. Squirrel scat is very rarely found, and tends to be up in the branches of trees.
Difference Between Squirrel Tracks And Mouse Tracks In Snow
Mice tracks are much smaller than squirrels tracks. It’s extremely rare for mice to have visible toes in their tracks.
Usually you need to identify mouse trails in snow by the overall shape. They are very small, and tail drags are extremely common in mouse trails moving through fresh deep snow.
Mouse tracks show best in fresh snow, and are much more susceptible to aging effects than squirrel tracks.
Let’s Get Out Squirrel Tracking!
Squirrels are fun to track in snow because they’re very active and have small territories.
Next time you find the distinctive trails of a squirrel moving through the snowy forest, try following it. Squirrel trails will lead you to their favorite trees, food caches and even their winter nest sites.
One of the best ways to get started with squirrel tracking is to learn about their diet, so go check out my other article discussing what squirrels eat.