The puzzle of the marks on the tree

Hi Amy,

Marks made upwardsI’m answering you as a blog entry rather than a comment, so I can include photos. I’ve puzzled over the pictures you sent me of marks on a tree, as well as the details about measurements and known wildlife in your area. I also consulted with an expert woodswoman.

The width of the marks you found is within the range possible for cougars (3.5 to 4.8 inches) or bear (3.75 to 5.5 inches). Cougars would likely only show four claw marks together, as their fifth claw, like a domestic cat, is located separately and further back from the four front claws. Bears can show five claws, but, especially in the case of black bears, the fifth one is usually faint.

Regularity of marksHowever, the real deciding factor was the regularity of the marks (as in the photo to the left). I believe that a wild animal would not make such regular marks (12 sets, separate from each other), and the lines would not be so even and parallel. Also, I think the animal would not scratch upwards, as were the marks shown in one of your photos (shown above).

I’m including a photo of bear marks, which shows that the path of the mark is less regular, and has only four claw marks. The curved lines are more typical of the natural arm movement of a bear. Bear marks

The second photo is of cougar marks, and you can see the lines are very thin, and there is a lot of overlap as the cougar scratched repeatedly in the same spot.

Cougar marksSo the conclusion I have reached is that the marks on the main tree you found were made by humans. The expert woodswoman I consulted thought some of the marks might have been made using an axe. However, the other marks you found on a different tree were less regular and could have been made by a cougar or bear. Thanks very much for writing and sharing this puzzle with me and the other readers on this blog!

7 thoughts on “The puzzle of the marks on the tree”

  1. I agree with you that the marks are very regular and even. That’s what makes them so odd. I think you’re right that they are probably made by humans, but as my 10 year old son remarked, “This is such a beautiful tree, too bad someone had to carve it up like that”.

    Thanks for your help. Amy

  2. Hi Amy,

    Your son is very wise. Perhaps you and he would like to give healing energy to the tree. You can do this by placing both hands on the tree, fingers and thumbs together (not spread apart). Healing energy will automatically flow through you and into the tree.

    Warm wishes,

  3. Hello Karen,

    It’s me again, time for my yearly post. We have just been out to our cabin and AGAIN we have new marks on our tree. I am convinced that they are from a cougar since one had been spoted in our area a couple of years ago and shortly after that the first set of marks appeared. Last spring new marks appeared on the same tree and now we have yet more new marks this spring. I checked the tree about 2 months ago when we drove out to check on the cabin and nothing had changed from last year. There was still snow on the ground and I did walk the area looking for prints but didn’t find anything but some deer poop. Yesterday when we were out there I noticed that we have new marks. I really want to know what kind of animal made what appears to be scratches on the tree. I have been in contact with our Game and Fish Dept. and they didn’t want to comment on what could have made them. I even sent pic’s in to our Extension Service to see if the tree might have something strange going on naturally. They told me “no” that it was nothing natural that “something” made the marks because of the way the tree was trying to heal itself. It is so puzzeling because new marks appear in the spring usually after we’ve been out there a couple of times. Do you think it could possibly be a male cougar marking his territory and he does so in the spring after we’ve been out there with our dog because he can smell dog?? Would love to know your thoughts on this. Thanks! Kim

  4. Hello Karen,

    I tried submitting a post yesterday but it didn’t seem to show up so I appologize if you get this twice. I am still trying to figure out the puzzeling marks on our tree also. Was wondering what your thoughts were. Each year we seem to get more marks on the tree in the spring. This spring was no different. This is the third time we’ve gotten marks on the same tree. I haven’t been able to find anyone that can give me some kind of answer to what could be making them. I am still convinced it is a male cougar but have yet to find anyone that has knowledge enough to give me some answers. The marks on our tree are very different from those shown above. Any help you might be able to offer would be appreciated. I enjoy reading posts on your website. It is so nicely put together. Kim

  5. Hi Kim,

    Thanks for writing! It’s great to hear from you again. Interesting that the new tree markings are an annual event, which does seem to indicate some kind of cyclical animal behavior. I’m going to check with my experienced bush-whacking friends, and will post another reply after we discuss the matter!

    Warm regards,

  6. Hi Kim,

    This morning I had a chance to do a little more research, and came across this info about cougar scratch marks:
    “Like house cats scratching furniture, cougars mark their territory boundaries by leaving claw marks on trees, stumps, and occasionally fence posts. Claw marks left by an adult cougar will be 4 to 8 feet above the ground and consist of long, deep, parallel scratches running almost vertically down the trunk. These gashes rarely take off much bark; tree-clawing that removes much bark is probably the work of a bear. (Bobcat claw marks are normally 2 to 3 feet above the ground; domestic cat scratching occurs at a height of about 1½ to 2 feet).” Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,

    I hope that will help! So those thin scratch marks I showed you before are from cougars, whereas deeper marks are more likely from a bear.

    Cougars do compete for territory with wolves. I don’t know if the smell of your dog might be similar to the smell of a wolf and could therefore cause a cougar to make the markings.

    I wondered if the spring scratches would be typical for a bear coming out of hibernation, but found this info about bear markings:
    “Males tend to mark trees before and during breeding season and females tend to make mark at the end of summer and fall.” Source:
    The height of bear scratches depends on the size of the bear but is often between 5 and 7 feet; so this is within the height of cougar scratching and not helpful for identification!

    In conclusion, if the new marks are quite thin scratches, I would tend to think they are from a male cougar. Have you looked around for any other signs of cougar activity and territory-marking? They often scratch up a pile of dirt and urinate on it, or heap leaves and other debris to make a “post” that they mark with their urine and feces.

    Happy spring, and happy tracking! 🙂


  7. Karen,

    Thanks for taking time to do some research on my puzzeling scratch marks on the tree. The crazy thing about the marks is that you can see a paw print in the shorter scratches. I guess I’ll probably never know for sure but did want to get your thoughts on the fact that they do seem to appear each Spring. Sadly they are starting to develop the area and our nice secluded cabin will no longer sit alone. I’m sure that the wildlife in the area will also began to dissapear as more people come into the area. Makes me sad. 🙁 Nothing is more relaxing than a cup of coffee at sunrise on the upper deck just taking in the sights and sounds of nature and the lake. Thanks again.



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