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Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their TracksThis manual provides a procedure for УtrackingФ mammals according to tracks left in the snow. Focus is on the behavior of mammals: size of their habitat, biotopic and habitat distribution, feeding sites, behavior during feeding, etc. Several methods of determining track freshness, the direction of movement and rules for tracking are described.

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.


Snow cover, which replaces autumn's leaves and mud, provides zoologists with an opportunity to delve into undercover details of animal life, especially mammals, including the most careful and reserved ones. Any beast, regardless of its size, leaves tracks on the snow surface, in other words Уan autographФ on loose snow, especially newly fallen snow.

An observer who has certain pathfinderТs skills (which can and should be mastered over time,) learns what animals the tracks belong to and under what conditions they have been left. If one follows the whole route (track route) of an animal, recording carefully all evidence impressed on snow, then it is possible to precisely describe all features of animal life in quantitative indicators at the given section of the route.

The given lesson involves independent students' work in УtrackingФ animals that inhabit the vicinities of the school or a field study center, which leave tracks on the snow. They are mainly mammals characterized as active in winter. They include hoofed animals: elk, deer, wild boars, roe deer; Lagmorpha: brown hare and Alpine hare; rodents: squirrels, muskrats, beavers, Carnivore: wolves, foxes, raccoons, lynx; martens, minks, polecats, ermine, weasels, otters and wolverines.

The task involves tracking several (different) individuals belonging to one or several animal species out of the mammals found in the given area.

A map of the area where tracking will take place is required (a large-scale map is preferable), as well as rulers, compasses and field notebooks.

Essentials of the tracking procedure

The tracking procedure generally consists of the following: an observer goes along a chain of animal footprints Уto the toesФ (in the same direction as the animal) or Уto the heel" (against the animal movement); the observer is not allowed to cut off any loops or turnings made by an animal, as hunters usually do. The distance covered is counted in steps, whereas the direction of each turn is measured according to the compass. All the data is recorded in the field notebook or plotted on the available plan of the site. At the same time, students should register all of the important features of the animalТs behavior.

What are tracks? Determination and measurement of tracks

Preliminary excursions, study of literature, photos and drawings of animal tracks and practical training aimed at familiarization with tracks of major animal species in the given area will help students to master practical skills of track determination. Data on relative numbers of different animal species and skills in track determination that have been gained in the previous lesson will make selecting the object of study much easier.

The given educational task involves dealing not only with tracks in their classical representation, i.e. footprints of paws, but with other traces of vital animal functions left on snow as well.

Traces of vital functions are usually considered as follows:

Trails of movement Ц footprints of paws or other parts of a body (a tail, a belly), broken shrubs, compacted paths, littering caused by animal's movement through branches and thickets.

Traces of feeding activity Ц food debris and food reserves, digging in snow, traces of a search for food, feeding tables, bitten and broken plants, traces of chasing and dragging of prey, etc.

Tracks associated with shelter-making Ц burrows, lairs, lies, passages under the snow, etc.

Traces of life functions Ц excrement, urinary spills, traces of molting and hair shedding.

Information tracks Ц traces of information-passing which indicate occupancy of the area Ц bite marks and scratches on trees and on the ground, discharge of musky glands, sound signals.

It is necessary to remember that tracks of a group of animals are almost never found just as they are, for instance, trails of movement can be associated with search for ...


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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© Ёкологический центр "Ёкосистема"Щ, ј.—. Ѕоголюбов / © Field Ecology Center "Ecosystem"Щ, Alexander Bogolyubov, 2001-2017