|David Brown's Wildlife Services
12 Hotel Road
Warwick, MA 01378
Tel 978 544 8175
The quality of information found in various tracking resources is very uneven. Some problems
arise from honest mistakes; tracking is, after all, an evolving art and no one at this point knows
everything there is to know. Other problems are more culpable, however. Some writers rely on
previous written sources of dubious reliability or, worse, on their own imagination as they fill
gaps in their knowledge from thin air, relying cynically on the naivete of their audience to cover
their tracks, so to speak. As a result I tend to be conservative about making recommendations
for learning resources. Here are a few that I can recommend in whole or in part.
Brown, David: Trackards for North American Mammals McDonald & Woodward. Twenty-six
water proof card sides present tracks and sign of over 30 mammals that range across North
America. All are life-size,and produced from photographs or casts of actual sign. For more
information see the Products page.
Brown, David: The Companion Guide to Trackards for North American Mammals McDonald
& Woodward. This adjunct to the Trackards provides additional illustrations and information for
interpreting the material on the Trackards. To order this or the above title please see the
publisher's website :. www.mwpubco.com.
Brown, David: The Next Step: Interpreting Wildlife Tracks, Trails and Sign. McDonald &
Woodward. This book takes the process of track and sign identification into "eco-tracking", that
is, using animal sign to determine not only identity but also behavior and relationship to habitat.
Due for release in 2014.
Rezendes, Paul: Tracking and the Art of Seeing. Harper Collins. This book relies on Paul's
beautiful photographs of both tracks and sign as well as habitats and the animals themselves.
Rezendes was a latter-day pioneer in rediscovering the nearly lost art of animal tracking in
North America. The book is most helpful with the eastern species that he knew best.
Elbroch, Mark: Mammal Tracks and Sign, Bird Tracks and Sign, Animal Skulls. Stackpole
Three books are currently on the market. Mark's scholarship is impressive, even though he was
not well served by the editors at Stackpole at least in the textual parts of his books. As desktop
references for detailed information about tracks and sign as well as skulls they are the best
things out there and have vaulted Elbroch into leadership on the American tracking scene.
Murie, Olaus: A Field Guide to Animal Tracks. Houghton Mifflin. Murie got to see the
American West before it was largely spoiled by the blight of civilization. His painstaking
drawings of the tracks and scat he encountered on his journeys inspired and provided a start for
many current North American trackers. These drawings depended on his individual perspective
which did not always capture the essence of his subject, and rarely he made mistakes. But the
few mistakes were honest ones, unlike those of subsequent "trackers" who plagiarized those
errors into their own works with telling accuracy. An enduring book by a pioneer in tracking who
led the right life, a life that has inspired many, including me. (This book has recently been
updated by Elbroch.)
Stokes, Donald and Lillian: A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior. Little Brown. Skip
the track renditions which are either too crude to be helpful or derivative from elsewhere.
However, the life history information can be very helpful for a quick check on gestation periods,
pup emergence and so forth. This information is as good as its sources, generally scientific
journals which the Stokeses have done the great service of translating from scientific jargon into
reasonably colorful Anglo-saxon for the rest of us.
Halfpenny, Jim: Mammal Tracking in North America, Johnson Books. Once again skip the
crude track renditions and go to the information on patterns and gaits. These provide a good
introduction to this esoteric subject, Be aware that some of the frame sequences of gaits seem
to be out of order, presenting a mammal moving in anatomically impossible ways.
Burt and Grossenheider: A Field Guide to Mammals of America North of Mexico. Houghton
Mifflin. This book is somewhat dated now as far as both range maps and attitude. Professor
Burt was from a former era where there were good animals and bad animals, the bad ones
being any that interfered with human ambitions. However, the paintings by Grossenheider are
exquisite and the book itself is a good quick reference for such things as body length and
weight, number of mammae, etc. Unfortunately the track renditions are mostly mythical and the
skull photos in the back are too dark to reveal the kind of detail they should.
Reid, Fiona: Mammals of North America Houghton Mifflin. This book is intended to replace
the above by Burt in the Peterson Field Guide series. In most respects it is an improvement: the
skull charts are much clearer and the track representations, while not perfect, are substantially
better than in the above book. The art work does not match that of Grossenheider, suffering in
some instances from problems of proportion and detail. However the text is less judgemental
and the range maps are more up to date.
Keeping Track. www.keepingtrack.org. Sue Morse's site. Her organization seeks to train and
organize volunteers to "keep track" of wildlife activity near their homes in order to inform local
public policy. Many chapters exist throughout the Northeast.
Wildlife Tracking in North America. www.wildlifetrackers.com. Mark Elbroch's site. His
organizatiuon seeks to credential trackers to standards of expertise, relying on a testing method
developed in South Africa.
International Society of Professional Trackers. www.ispt.org. Appears to be a no-nonsense
organization that emphasizes tracking techniques and expertise from South Africa. The links
page provides some interesting sites.
Virtual Dirt Time. www.dirttime.ws. Interesting track identification puzzles and explications.
Main Primitive Skills School. www.primitiveskills.com. Not primarily a tracking website, but
the links page presents a long list of pertinent websites.
New England Discovery. www.newenglanddiscovery.com. A tracking instruction and mammal
inventory organization based in Newburyport, MA
Solution to the problem on the Encounters page:
The commonest sign of avian
predation that I find in the New England
woods is a pile of blue jay feathers. These
birds play a most dangerous game with
accipiter hawks, repeatedly harassing them
on their perches, inviting the raptor to take
its best shot. Most of the time the jays elude
the retaliatory swoop of the hawk, but
obviously not always. The reason for the
jays' behavior is obscure. Perhaps, being
intelligent birds, they get easily bored.
The two accipiters usually involved are
the sharp-shinned hawk and, as in the
photo to the left, the Cooper's hawk. Which
one was involved in the problem at hand is
This was not a kill site, but rather a
plucking perch. After killing the hapless jay,
the raptor generally carries it to a convenient site for plucking and feeding. Such a site usually is secluded
enough for the bird to feel safe as it feeds and provides a clear view of the immediate surroundings for the
The evidence that this was not a kill site is the lack of blood in the feather pile. This indicates that the jay
was already dead and transported from elsewhere. Often raptors will eject a pellet from their gizzard at the
plucking perch. This contains the indigestible parts of its previous meal, which it must dislodge before it can
consume its current one.