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Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Procedure of winter mammals route census by footprintsThis manual contains a standard procedure of census for large and middle-sized mammals (from weasel to elk) during a winter period, which is applied in the system game animals' census in the forested zone of Russia. This manual includes a description of census routes selection procedure, technique of census data processing and calculation of numbers of animals per unit of the area.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


The educational task described here leads to students individual route census of animals using footprints left by mammals on snow cover during winter. According to the task, several censuses are made separately in three or four types of habitats most typical for your area.

This work is not too laborious, however, it requires the skill to recognize animal species by their footprints, skills to get orientated and to measure distances on location, as well as skiing ability.

Main idea of procedure of winter mammals route census by footprints

In Russia the winter route census is applied to an estimation of population density and numbers of average and large mammals on large territories. It is also used with scientific research purposes within the venatic (venatorial, hunting) system.

The procedure of winter route census is based on estimations that the average number of mammal footprints crossing a registration route is directly proportional to this species' population density. Whereas a number of footprints within the area depends on activity of animal migrations (movements): the probability of finding animal footprints en route is higher the more active the animal is and the more it migrates.

Thus, in order to estimate the species' population density (number of specimens per unit of the area) two parameters are required: 1) an average of footprint crossings made by an animal per a time unit (for example, per one day) per unit of route length and 2) a coefficient connected with mobile activity (length of a daily course) of the given animal.

In a simple example, the formula of population density estimation based on the data from counting footprints as D = A K, where D equals the given species' population density (number of animals per unit of the area within the territory), A equals census value (average of footprint crossings made by animals of a certain species during one day per a unit of route length), and K equals conversion factor, connected with length of a daily course of the animal during the census period in the given territory.

In this connection, the census procedure consists of two parts: 1) determination of "A" value, i.e. direct route counting 2) estimation of conversion factor K.

The conversion factor can be determined by one of the following methods: 1) by tracking animalsТ footprints with the subsequent estimation of an average length of a daily course, 2) by comparison of a census value with an animalsТ population density on the test sites; thus the number of animals on test sites is defined by the method of multiday encirclement.

In order to calculate the conversion factor correctly, it is necessary to use the information on an average length of a daily course of animals received by various methods in different years in different regions. It is very time-consuming work; therefore, nowadays the calculation of conversion factors is carried out only by state statistic organizations. In Table 2 (see at the end of this manual) the average values of factors for the majority of animal species inhabiting forested zones of Russia calculated for three main climatic zones based on the research data in 1991-1994 are indicated.

These factors can be used for the purposes of the given educational task only in the case that similar factors of animalsТ daily activity for your area are not available.

Census procedure

Conditions of census

The main condition of a winter route census is the presence of snow cover, on which animals leave their footprints.

Census taking is not carried out during a period of hard frosts, long thaws, in a period when ice crust is formed on the snow surface, or during days with a strong wind, snowfall or drifting snow. Thus, a census does not take place during days with "extreme" weather conditions. After a heavy snowfall the census is not carried out for 2-3 days.

If a strong snowfall or blizzard starts after footprints have been cleaned from the route or while a census is being taken, the census stops and should be carried out again when...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write to in a free form.

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple УEyeФ Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of BirdsТ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on LeavesТ Asymmetry

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