There are two common types of backyard critters who leave some pretty obvious tracks behind even if we never actually saw our visitors. Both moles and voles leave telltale signs behind as they forage in our lawns.
Voles: There are a few different kinds of voles one may encounter including the: Prairie Vole, Pine Vole, and Meadow Vole. Voles make runaways along the ground which you are likely to encounter if you do any shoveling of snow in your yard or immediately after a thaw. We often find vole runaways which lead directly to the areas below our bird feeders. You may also notice damage to bark around your shrubs after the snow melts; this could be from hungry voles looking for a winter snack. Plantings thick with native plants, especially native grasses may attract these rodents to your yard. Voles play an important role in the food chain, as they are a staple in the diets of many raptors like hawks and owls.
Moles: These little miners are in fact quite different from voles. Moles of the Midwest include the Star Nosed Mole and the Eastern Mole. Lawns are generally ideal mole habitat as they burrow their way looking for worms and other soil dwellers to eat. This burrowing leaves a trail of pushed-up dirt and sod, mole hills, behind which helps with soil aeration. These can be easily pushed back in place by walking along the trail. Moles are one of the few native animals which will eat Japanese Beetles. While they may be annoying as they incidentally uproot some vegetation in their quest for insects, their endeavors are generally beneficial.
Your lawn has probably attracted both species at some point or another, so the next time you run across an odd path of grass in your lawn know that either the voles or moles have come to visit.