A year in a moose's life


Follow the king of the forest through a year of his life

W I N T E R

Winters are cold and long in moose land. Minus 40C are not seldom in many areas, but our king of the forest is well suited:

He has hollow hair filled with air to keep him warm, a warm under-wool and long guard hair up to 25cm long. In summer and autumn he has filled up his reserves by eating as much as possible. Often moose move down from the higher mountains with too deep snow to the lowlands.

Of course he has a much smaller offer of food, sometimes the bushes and other plants are covered by 1 meter of snow. Their food consumption is only 20% of that in summer. He feeds more bark or young sprouts, for example of willows, and conifers, and digs down into the snow for ground vegetation. Caused by that feeding many young plants or plant parts die off.  He needs much longer for feeding due to the little and hard-to-find supply.

After the mating "father-groups" counting up to 19 bulls gather in October-November and continue their sparring.The bull sheds his antlers in Mid December, the area, where the antlers were adnated to the head, heals fast. The built "father-groups" often disband after that time, as the bulls "loose personality" and get solitary again. But when the snow gets deeper, some of them can find together a second time.

Cows keep closely together with their calves during that time.

Exclusively in these hard days moose form groups and give up their solitary life for a while. This helps defending against wolve packs and building "moose yards" by trampling down snow and keeping off wind.

Moose try to move as little as possible these days to save energy and fat reserves. Body temperature is lowered. Moose try to catch the sun, due to their dark coat they can use as much sun-energy as possible. They sometimes let falling snow just cover them - giving a warming home and hides  for predation. They visit roads to lick salt used for de-icing to improve the mineral-budget. They use up their reserves and get week in winter.

Besides the low food supply and the chill other threats endanger their life in this inhospitable season: Predators such as wolves chase them in snow- especially 7-8 months old calves and old, weak and ill moose. Moose can break into ice of lakes and drown. Others die in rail and road-traffic, as they seek those trails with low snow. Parasites such as the winter-tick damage their protective coat and exposes parts of their body to the chill.

 

Not too high or not crusted snow is essential for them - not just because of the possibility to escape predators or defend themselves, which gets impossible in snow higher than 50-70 cm. Also moving in deep or crusted snow costs too much energy. Disturbance by humans during that hard time can be a real risk for the moose, as stress and escaping uses additional energy - eating up reserves.

 


 

S P R I N G

In early April - with longer days - snow vanishes from the valleys. The green comes back giving new food in vast amounts. Bulls antlers start growing again.

Cows - heavy with young - start looking for an appropriate place for birth.

The winter-coat starts dissapearing, the moose look disheveled and are just skin and bones.

In  May-June the cows give birth to one or two, redish-brown offspring, who are already about 1m long. In a few days the calves learn - driven by their mother - to swim, giving them a better chance to escape predators. Also within just a few days the new-born run faster than a human!

Mother and calf stay together in vicinity to the place of birth for the first 1-2 months. The offspring learns warnings-sounds from the mother and try to escape together with her in direction to water, when enemies appear. If flight is not possible, the cow defends the new-born regardlessly. Grizzlies and black bear very often get away from the lethal front and back legs of a fighting cow. Nevertheless - 50% loss can happen in their first year of life due to predators, snow and chill and injuries.

The calves grow fast - faster than any other land-based animal. 1 kg per day in their first 6 months are not uncommon.

The father-groups - again sparring for training in groups of around 6 bulls - hunt themselves and perform mock-attacks - also in water.

On the other side moose still minimize their energy usage as far as possible, putting all power into their new coat, new antlers or just to re-load their reserves used up by the hard winter time - preparing for the next mating season. They often snooze, stretch after getting up and scratch their itching antler-rudiments. Time just gets better for them ...

 

 

S U M M E R

The sun is shining, it's warm, sometimes hot outside. The food supply is still perfect in moose country, most animals have chosen higher grounds, where it's colder than down in the valleys. Moose often submerge in ponds to cool down, maybe also to escape vast quantities of flies.

Around July the now 14 month old moose - last years offspring - is chased out, so that the cow can fully concentrate on the 2-month old calf. The suddenly unwanted one year old young moose try still to stay in vicinity to their mother and try to get  closer - all in vain.
Still they stay - sometimes for months or even years - not too far away from their mothers, until they finally open an own territory, yet in proximity.

Moose really prove to be eating-machines: Watch them putting over and clamping their muzzle over a leafy branch and setting the seal on the plants by one systematic panning of the head. You will believe moose can damage young plants.

Up to ten "porkfests" of just eating whatever they like and is close enough are accomplished every day - each taking about 50 minutes. Each feeding session is followed by approximately 50 minutes of ruminating - a moose's day is done !
They stay long times at one place while enough food is available. They stand up on their hind legs to reach higher branches to directly feed or tear the whole branch down. They can go down on their knees to catch any green close to the soil. In the end often 50% of all vegetation in their vicinity is devastated before they move on.

Moose use the nutritient-rich times to store fat for the wintertime full of prevation. Bulls feed even on free plains - only goal a maximum of gain in weight by feeding in order to grow huge antlers and bodies - so important for the mating season. Cows are usually more concealed, mainly to protect their calves.


A U T U M N

It's August/September: Bulls antlers now grow with a record-speed of 1,5cm / day - the fastest known growth-rate of bones !

The offspring is trained in several subjects by their mothers: Feeding in boreal forests, smell and sound of hazards the calves need to take care of. In that time they reach around 100kg of weight.

Driven by hormons and the cooler air both sexes start migrating to their mating grounds, which naturally are in higher areas. Their travel can be just a few or also 200 kilometers.

In early September cows group with a high probability into groups with an average of 6-7 moose, but also up to 35. Seldomly cows with calves join, and if, only for a short period.

During the upcoming rut cows spend 75% of their time feeding and about 2% interacting with males.
Bulls use 40% of their timer monitoring the cow groups, 15% interacting with both bulls and cows and usually rests when the cows are feeding.

The velvet on the bulls antlers falls off, hanging down in shreds. The king of the forest's outlook is in this very moment more bizarre and strange than royal. After the antlers recovered their appearance they start roaring with a volume still hearable in 8 km. The cows will answer these calls, if they hear them.

The bulls curl their upper lips to reveal the gland, which is their analysing laboratory for the pheromons of close-up cows. Cows and bulls finally find together in their mating grounds - unfortunately not alone. Conflicts emerge from that gathering. Young males fight mock skirmishes, bulls with antlers get into real fighting, when the sole comparison of their antlers and mock attackls does not clear the hierachy.

In that case head-shaking, snorting and mock attacks evolve, ending usually with pitting their strength against each other by antler-to-antler pushing matches. The looser leaves - continuing to look for other cows - possibly facing the next fight.

Now the less aesthetical part in human rating: The winner digs a hole, called "wallow" or "pit", with his antlers and feet, urinates into it and rolls in it, also wetting his bell with the "perfume of dominance". Cows follow to wallow in the hole, sometimes they fight for being the one to do so. Finally the real mating comes - for one or several cows - with the dominant bull.

All that fighting and comparing takes place in late September to early October, charging 20% of the bulls weight. Small wounds are normal and frequent, but seldomly dangerous. The main risk for life is an jamming of the antlers - the bulls cannot separate any more and die of hunger.

In mid October - after the mating period -  the moose migrate downwards into lower grounds to await the winter - usually lonesome.