Tall (six feet or more), a dark chocolate brown, and certainly less than handsome, the moose has become a favorite of visitors to the Kawuneeche Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park. With its bulbous nose, hump over the shoulder, and a slightly ridiculous looking "bell" or dewlap hanging from the neck, the awkwardly constructed moose is seldom confused with its more populous and elegant cousin the elk.
Historical records dating back to the 1850's suggest that moose were most likely only transient visitors to the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park. Indeed, there is scant evidence that a breeding population ever existed in northern Colorado. In 1978 and 1979, the Colorado Division of Wildlife transferred two groups of moose (12 each year) from the Uintah Mountains and Grand Teton herds to an area just west of the Never Summer Range near Rand, Colorado.
The headwaters of the Colorado proved to be prime moose habitat when two cows and a bull wintered over in the Kawuneeche Valley in 1988. Since then, sightings occur almost daily in the summer and are not unusual throughout the rest of the year, since a number of moose now winter in the Park
Moose And You
Both mature males (with their palmate antlers) and females (antlerless) can be extremely unpredictable. Rutting bull moose have charged horses, cars, and locomotives. The female is particularly protective of her calf. The moose has a top speed of 35 miles (55 kilometers) per hour--not an advantage most visitors would choose to challenge in a foot race! If you see a moose display the threat position of either "head high" or "head low", it is time to retreat.
Moose are loners by nature and these largest members of the deer family rarely travel with more than one or two other moose companions. Since their preferred diet of willow, aspen, and aquatic plants occurs in patches, animals disperse widely across the landscape seeking food. However, moose return annually with great predictablility to their favorite seasonal habitat. For example, studies show they will return to the same clump of willows on almost the same day of winter each year.
The Colorado herd (estimated to have expanded from the original 24 to nearly 1,700 in 2010) is scattered over a range that now extends to Winter Park in the south, and Steamboat Springs to the west.
Bulls experience a rapid growth of velvet-covered antlers through the spring months that culminates in a flattened rack as much as 80 inches (2 m) from tip to tip. The velvet is usually gone by mid-September. Antlers are dropped annually in early spring.
The rut (mating season) extends from September through November, when a bull attends only one female at a time (although he may breed with several cows in one season). Calves are born in the spring after an eight-month gestation period. Twin calves are relatively uncommon, occurring in less than five percent of all births. However, the local habitat and its abundant forage appear to have stimulated an above-average rate of twins in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Over a 20-year life span in the wild, bulls may reach a height of 6½ to 7½ feet (2-2.3 m) at the shoulder, and weigh from 800 - 1,600 pounds (360-725 kg). Cow moose are only slightly less imposing at 5 to 6½ feet (1.5-2 m) tall and 600 - 1,000 pounds (270-450 kg).
Visitors may see moose at almost any time of day. As noted, cows may travel and browse with a calf, or some bulls may wander in pairs. Each social unit tends to establish its own range, and may stay in a given location for days or weeks, as long as food resources last and the animals are not harassed.
Look for moose in areas with aquatic vegetation and willows. Visitors sight moose with some frequency in the half-mile stretch just north of Onahu Creek Trailhead, along the Onahu Trail. Willow areas along the Colorado River next to Timber Creek Campground and at Lulu City are other good viewing locations. Rangers at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center can often provide information on where moose have been recently seen.
Enjoy the moose at a distance... give these magnificent animals plenty of room to roam without human intereference.
Did You Know?
The male Western Tanager, with red head and yellow body, stands out brightly in the dark conifer forest.