Welcome to Discovery Time, a video series designed for families with young children (2+ years) as a way of introducing kids to nature. Each video has a project and a suggested book list.

Discover who your neighbors are and learn about animal tracks! (Ages: 2+)

Tracks Activity Instructions

Ages: 2-5 years
Time Required: 10-20 minutes


  • Rake
  • Sand
  • Shovel
  • Bait (bird seed, fruits, vegetables, etc.)

Try This!

Step 1: Rake away leaves and sticks from a small area.

Step 2: Bring in some soft sand or soil and spread it out making it smooth and level.

Step 3: Add bait, like bird seeds.

Step 4: Watch and see what comes to leave tracks! Be patient, it may take a day or two.

Step 5: Try checking after a rainstorm when the ground it soft and wet.

What’s Going On?

Animals are constantly on the move and when we go out to explore, we aren’t always lucky enough to see them but we can look for what animals leave behind, like tracks. Animal tracks are generally easiest to find in mud, soft garden soil, sand and snow. When you find a track, you can measure the width and length of the prints. You can also measure the stride width (length between prints) and the straddle (width between prints), this can give you an idea of how quickly the animal was moving. Count how many toes you see; this can help you group the types of tracks you are seeing into different kinds of animals. You can also measure the depth to compare tracks left in the same substrate at the same time, since the heavier the animal, the deeper the print it will leave.

Tracks can tell us where an animal is going and what type of animal left the print, but footprint tracks aren’t all animals leave behind. Animals with tails often leave tracks of their tails dragging on the floor, and birds can also leave tracks of their wings as they try to take off in flight or land on the ground. Animals can also leave behind fur, feathers and even scat (animal poop). Scat can tell us what animals are eating. Sometimes animal scat can even fossilize into coprolites and tell us what animals ate millions of years ago. Feathers, fur, scats and tracks can tell us who lives in the neighborhood.

Extension Activity

Try moving the location of the bait around your yard or changing the bait to see if you are more successful in one place vs another, or by using bait A vs bait B, and count how many tracks you have and how many different types over the same number of days to compare.

Supporting Stories

  • Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature’s Footprints by Jim Arnosky
  • Whose Poop Is THAT? by Darrin Lunde

Have Fun, Stay Safe

Adventuring outside with children is more about exploring what you find, not the destination!

  • Have fun and be flexible.
  • Give the kids some control, but keep them close.
  • Bring snacks and plenty of fluids.
  • Dress yourself and your children in layers and wear closed-toe shoes, long sleeves, pants and a hat to protect your skin from sunburn and insect bites.
  • Pick a short, interesting hike and allow a lot of time.
  • Safety first! Check your surroundings and watch where you step. Be extra cautious around water.
  • Be prepared with first aid.
  • Plan for weather!
  • Teach, sing and play games with your kids.
  • Review with the kids – each hike – what to do if they should become separated from you.

Ethics of Collecting

  • Respect all living things including all plants and animals.
  • Return all living creatures back to where you found them.
  • Collect carefully!
  • Respect others property, watch for posted signs and private property.
  • Take a close look at nature, but best practice is to return natural items where they were found.