Elk of Northern New Mexico

brown four legged animal standing in open grass field
Elk in Pecos National Historical Park

NPS Photo

Elk are one of the largest members of the deer family. Large males, called bulls, can weigh several hundred pounds and stand five feet at the shoulder. Females are called cows and are roughly half that size. Discernable by their dark brown manes, light brown bodies and white rumps. They grow a thicker coat of hair each winter, which they shed during the spring.

Males have antlers, which grow in the spring and drop each winter. Antlers can grow up to an inch a day. They’re covered with a protective layer of velvety skin and when the antlers are fully grown, the bulls scraps this layer off.

Life History:
Elk are highly social animals and travel in various herd sizes throughout the year. They have a large range and move according to the seasonal availability of food. In the summer, herds move to higher elevations to feed on tundra vegetation, while in the winter they move down to lower elevations, where we see them in the park.

Calving usually happens in tall grassy or brush areas away from the herd. Elk calves are born from late May into June and weigh about 30 pounds. Most cows give birth to one calf, but may also have two. Newborns have spots, which fade away by late summer. Calves join the herd after two weeks and are weaned at two months old. Cows are extremely protective of their calves so use caution around elk at this time of year.

Elk primarily graze on grasses and forbs but they also browse shrubs. They feed mostly in the morning and evening, and seek sheltered areas during the middle of the day to digest. They eat an average of 20 pounds of vegetation daily. Elk have a lifespan of 10-13 years in the wild.

Elk Viewing:
A small herd of elk can be seen throughout the park year round. In the summer months, they can be seen in the cottonwood groves along Glorieta Creek and near the Forked Lightning Ranch. In the autumn, they can be seen in the Trade Field to the east of the Pueblo. Watch for elk along the edges of clearings early in the morning.

Last updated: July 8, 2018