What Mysterious Hudson Valley Wildlife is Trekking Through Your Yard?
I'm not sure if this is one of those 'I'd rather not know what is lurking in my backyard' situations, or an opportunity to do some cool research about wildlife living in the Hudson Valley, but here we are. You never know what you might spot in your travels here, like that time I bumped into a horse at the Dunkin' Donuts drive thru in Wappingers.
With winter officially upon us, once the ground is coated with snow, you may notice some footprints, both big and small, around your property. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has provided some helpful information to help you discover what type of wildlife might be visiting you here in the Hudson Valley when you aren't looking!
Identifying Hudson Valley Wildlife Tracks: What To Look For
The NYS DEC, in their 'Winter Tracks' guide, shares a lot of useful information on what to look for, and how to decipher the types of animals based on the tracks you may find this type of year, and how this knowledge can help us manage and protect wildlife populations in our area.
In order to really read and understand animal signs, we must first slow down so we don’t miss something important. Are those marks to the side from the same creature, or has another species entered the scene? Be sure to really look around for all the clues and take in the whole story written in the snow.
Imagine looking through tracks in the backyard of your home and finding something small enough to belong to a squirrel, and next to it, large enough to be classified as that of a bobcat?
The DEC shares that one of the things to first look at when examining animal tracks in the snow are gaits and patterns. A gait is classified as a 'pattern of limb actions that an animal uses repetitively' as they move, thus creating a pattern. The four main types of gaits in mammals are walk, trot, gallop and jump. Different types of animals utilize different gaits based on their size and speed, and therefore create different distinguishable patterns during their travel.
What Types Of Mammals Can Be Found in the Hudson Valley?
The NYS DEC breaks down the mammal species you are most likely to see prints from by putting them into families that have similar tracks; cat (bobcat and domestic), dog (coyote, fox and domestic), weasel (weasels, minks, skunks, martens, otters - yes we have them in NYS, and interesting-named ones too, and fishers - like the one recently freed from a trap in NY by the DEC), rabbit (Eastern cottontail and snowshoe hare), rodent (squirrels, chipmunks, muskrats, mice, rats, voles and beavers), deer (white-tailed deer, moose), raccoon, opossum and bear. Each displaying a similar gait and pattern in their prints that help identify them as a member of that family. A breakdown of the similarities in prints can be found by using the DECs winter tracks guide here.
If footprints aren't really your thing, you can always check out what kind of mess your visitors have left behind, from their behinds, in your backyard. As the DEC explains, animal scat can be used to help identify what types of wildlife may be lurking.
What types of tracks have you found on or around your property over the years?