Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Tracks in the Snow
Nature Bulletin No. 98   January 11, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation

Tracks in the snow tell fascinating stories of the secret lives of the wild animals that are abroad in wintertime -- stories of their search for food and the never-ending warfare between the hunter and the hunted.

Walking through the woods, we came upon the trail of a red fox. The footprints of a fox are more pointed than those of a dog, more nearly in a straight line, and the hind foot is placed exactly on the print of the corresponding front foot. More-over, this fox had walked out across a meadow to a big ant hill on top of which he sat to listen and test the wind for scent. A dog will not do that. Later, back in the woods, he had jumped on a fallen tree and trotted along its length. A dog will not do that, either. The fox was traveling leisurely, pausing here and there to sniff at tufts of grass and other possible hiding places for mice.

Then he had broken into a leaping run. A rabbit, crouched in the hollow of a stump, had dashed out, darted through a thick tangle of small hawthorns and choke cherries, and into a hollow log. The fox, forced to circle the thicket, got there too late.

In the woods adjacent to a big marsh dotted with muskrat houses, were the tracks of two mink. They had emerged from openings into the muskrat tunnels that honeycomb the shore. The mink' s footprint, in snow, is shaped much like that of a human foot. Their size and the distance between the pairs of prints indicate the age and sex of the animal. Mink prey on muskrats but they also hunt fish, crawfish, mice and squirrels. This pair, hunting separately, had combed the woods nosing into every patch of briars, every stump, every hollow tree, every mouse hole.

All through the woods, too, were the tracks of squirrels of pheasants. The squirrels had hopped along from tree to tree, swerving to dig up acorns they scented beneath the snow. We came upon another track of the fox, traveling in long leaps. He had spied a squirrel venturing just a little too far from any tree. The two tracks merged.

Only the fox track went on.

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