Photo by Joan Herrmann The Helldiver Pond moose has many fans.

Photo by Joan Herrmann
The Helldiver Pond moose has many fans.

by Joan Herrmann

As I mentioned in my last column, this past January 2017 the DEC hired a contractor to use aerial surveys to locate moose for GPS collaring and ear tagging. It is estimated that there are between 600 to 1,000 individuals now within the Adirondack Park. A bull moose (Alces alces) is an extremely large animal, weighing as much as 1,400 pounds. A bull moose’s body weight may fluctuate seasonally with a weight loss in winter and gain in summer, amounting to as much as a 55 percent gain in summer. Female, cow moose can weigh between 700 to 1,100 pounds, with the same type of fluctuation winter and summer. An interesting reminder is that a bull moose probably weighs as much as four times as a black bear and the cow moose twice as much. If you should see a moose in the road ahead, while driving your vehicle, moose do not jump out of the way the same way that white-tailed deer do, they just stand there, so STOP your car!
Rutting season has begun and your chances of seeing a moose in the Adirondacks are greater. Bull moose can be active any time of the day or night. It is their habit to feed for a few hours and then rest for a few hours; however they are more crepuscular in their feeding habits, feeding more at dusk and dawn.
In September moose begin to be more social and bulls and cows can be seen together for several weeks at a time as they court. The calves may also be seen with the cows. After the rutting season ends in November and December groups of bulls, cows, calves and young bulls can be found together. However in spring the groups will break up, bulls will become solitary and cows will stay with their calves until they are ready to give birth.
Bulls shed the antlers, which began growing in late spring and mature by late summer, sometime between December and March. The antlers can weigh as much as eighty pounds. In the early stages the antlers are cover with velvet (a fuzzy skin) that contain nerves and blood supply. The velvet gives nourishment to the growing bone, once the growth is completed the velvet is shed. A study of antlers revealed that they act as a parabolic reflector and that they aid the moose’s hearing. The older the bull is the sooner it shed the old antlers and the sooner it will begin to grow new ones. The only clue to a bull’s age is that the antlers get larger at the base each year. Bull calves have short spikes their first year and yearling and two year old have spikes or branched antlers; not the flattened antlers of older bulls. Cows and bulls call to each other during mating season. The cow gives loud calls and the bull answer with a series of low short grunts.
Mid September through October and even into early November is the rutting season in which establishing dominance is the most important factor for bull moose. These yearly rituals launch their species hierarchy (a system of ranking).
The first stage is sparring in which there is a lot of pushing and shoving, and as the season progresses, so does the level of seriousness. If onq of the opponents doesn’t retreat the fighting can become serious and even result in a fatal injury to the adversary.
Another component of the rut is done by scent marking; which is accomplished through both glandular secretions and urine. The scent marking allows the females to determine the bull’s status, health and availability. The courting has been documented to be three phases of courtship. The first the bull stands sideways in front of the cow, sometime for several hours. If she moves he moves in front of her sideways again. The second phrase the bull begins to follow closely behind her, moving as she moves. And third she consents to mating.
Gestation (the time it takes for the calf to grow before birth) is about eight months. When the calf is ready to be born, the cow will then become belligerent with her now yearling calf and drive it away. She will find a secretive spot to birth her calf. Young cows generally have one calf, but mature cows may have twins. The calves are born in late May or early June and within a few days will be able to follow their mother on wobbly long legs. The calves weigh about 25 to 30 pounds, but will grow quickly their first year to about 100 pounds. Moose are in their prime at about eight years of age, but have been known to live as long as 23 years.
The color of a moose can range from tan to almost black. During the summer the hairs are solid, but come fall the moose molt their old hairs and have several layers of new hairs, under the molting hair. One layer consists of wooly hair and that is covered by hollow hairs which aid in more insulation for winter. Under the chin of both male and female is a dewlap. The function of the dewlap is basically unknown, but some theorize it is used for communication during the rut, both in regard to smell and sight. Dewlaps can be found on dogs, bovines some reptiles and even on birds.
Moose scat changes seasonally depending on what it is eating. The scat can range from plops or patties to pellets. In winter when they are eating a most fibrous diet, such a twigs and bark the scat will more likely be pellets. Moose tracks are impressive and its front hoof track may be somewhere between five to seven inches while a white-tailed deer front hoof track is about one to four inches in length.
Other mammals that breed in autumn include cottontail rabbits, muswkrat, red squirrels and martens more about them in future columns.