Wildlife Trail Talk

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Wildlife Trail Talk
Kim High, Metroparks Master Interpreter

The Towpath isn’t the only trail in this area because people are not the only trail-makers. As you hike, look for narrow wildlife trails that cross the Towpath and lead to into thickets or underbrush. Even without snow cover to expose animal tracks, close observation will reveal that you are not alone!

Start by taking note of the trail height. Wildlife trails with high clearance suggest White-tailed deer crossings, and if those high clearance trails lead to flattened areas of underbrush or well-packed snow, you might have found ‘bedding sites’ where deer rest during periods of inactivity. You also might find stems and twigs that the deer have browsed along this trail—evident by distinctively stringy chew signs that look similar to what you see when you try to eat a piece of celery with your molars only.   

Trails with very low clearance are likely to be used by Eastern cottontails, especially if they lead into thick brambles such as blackberry or raspberry. Small animals like rabbits and songbirds prefer thorny briar patches to protect them from larger predators. Although plants with thorns hardly appeal to our taste buds, rabbits actually gnaw them as an important winter food source. If you notice clean, scissor-like snips on some of the stems of a bramble patch, you might have found evidence of a feasting rabbit.

If the trail clearance is of medium-sized height, this could indicate its use by any number of medium-sized mammals, such as Red fox, Striped skunk, or Raccoon.  Your nose might help reveal the trail-maker! If you think you smell a skunk, but the smell is not very strong, it might indicate the presence of a Red fox. Red foxes release mild skunk-like odors in order to mark their territories.

Of course, to  be certain which wildlife are making any of these trails, a good snow cover helps immensely, since tracks are sure giveaways to who’s who in Towpath habitat. Consider hiking right after a snowfall for best results--and for spectacular scenery!