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Tracking Quizzes

Quiz #37 - Answer

by Walter Muma


Photo by Walter Muma

The answer is ... PROBABLY Great Blue Heron. But we'll never know for sure, as the tracks are on water! :)

The stuff the bird is walking through is Duckweed, most likely Lesser Duckweed, Lemna minor.

This photo is not of the quiz area. It's of a Great Blue Heron in the pond at the rear of my back yard.

This was certainly a challenging quiz! Here is the reasoning behind selecting Great Blue Heron:
  • The most likely possibilities are deer or a large strutting bird, or a frog jumping.
  • I think we can rule out a frog jumping right away. The trail goes in a straight line for a very long way. And besides, there is nothing for the frog to push off against.
  • The tracks are remarkably straight, with one in front of the next in almost a straight line. This would tend to rule out deer, who have a wider straddle due to their body width. A large heron-like bird, on the other hand, has a narrow body and can easily place its feet one in front of the other in a straight line.
  • The water was about 2 feet deep (I actually went back to the exact spot in the winter to measure the water depth. And yes the water level was pretty well equal to what it was in the summer.). If a deer walked through water that was 2 feet deep, it would very likely leave quite a trail.
  • The tracks go out and come back. It is unlikely that a deer would walk twice across this area. Or that two deer would walk out together, crossing paths.
  • This wetland is surrounded by dry land, so it seems unlikely that a deer would walk through the water and muck here, and it seems likely that it would walk around instead.
  • The track shape suggests bird feet being lifted up and out of the water.
  • The trail pattern seems to suggest a carefully walking, perhaps stalking animal of some sort. This fits exactly in with what a Heron could be doing - stalking for prey.
  • As for what kind of Heron-like bird it could be ... in this area it seems most likely to be a Great Blue Heron, given the geographical area, the immediate local area, the activity apparently reflected in the trail pattern, the apparent size of the bird given necessary leg length, and which species of large Heron-like birds are present in the area. The last point narrows it down to great Blue Heron and Sandhill Crane. I suppose it could possibly be a Sandhill Crane, but I have only ever seen them in much more open areas.
  • Great Blue Heron legs measure up to about 3 feet.
  • There was no hint of tracks on the land where the tracks apparently led from and went to. Thus suggesting a lighter animal, such as a bird.

I hope you had as much fun with this as Brian, myself, and tracking friend Dan did!

--Walter Muma


Quiz #37 - Question      ...on to Quiz #38

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