A-MOOSE-ING VIEWS, ELK-CITING TIMES | A guide to wildlife spotting
ELK AND MOOSE are fond of the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, making it the perfect place to search for some wildlife. Here are some tips and fun facts for moose and elk spotting in the park and throughout Grand County.
Moose used to be incredibly rare in Colorado. A population transplant in the late ‘80s has grown into an estimated 2,500 in the state. Rocky is currently working on a moose research project to better tally the population in the park.
Sightings are frequent along Highway 34 in the Kawuneeche Valley, but keep an eye out for the mammals throughout the Grand Lake area.
Moose can often be spotted near rivers and lakes, especially on hotter days, and enjoy a good swim. Visitors can see moose almost any time of the day.
As the largest members of the deer family, males can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. An adult moose stands between 5 and 7 feet high at the shoulder.
While moose are typically solitary, calves will stick with their mothers for about a year. Cows usually bear one or two calves in the early summer.
Moose eat up to 70 pounds of food per day and are known to remember their favorite feeding areas. They’ll often return each season to their preferred spots.
- Turning off car lights and engines immediately.
- Shutting car doors quietly and keeping conversations to a minimum.
- Observing and photographing from a distance. If the animal moves away or its attention is diverted, you are too close.
- Staying by the roadside or on the trail while viewing.
- It is illegal to use artificial lights or calls to view or attract wildlife.
It’s very important to enjoy moose at a distance. These funny looking grazers are actually one of the most dangerous animals in Colorado if someone interferes with them.
Both bulls and cows are unpredictable, and females are especially protective of their calves.
Keep a good distance between you and the mammal, as moose can top speeds of 35 mph. If the moose displays a threatening positions of “head high” or “head low,” it’s time to pull back.
Elk usually have a dark brown mane, light brown bodies and white rumps. Only males have antlers, which can grow up to an inch a day.
Elk, once almost entirely wiped out in Colorado, grew to record high numbers in the ‘90s, harming the vegetation and other wildlife in the park. The park implemented the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan to maintain a more natural population of elk with a pretty good level of success.
However, there are still plenty of elk to see at the park. In the summer, large elk herds are found in alpine areas and along Trail Ridge Road. Watch for elk along the edges of clearings around dawn or dusk.
Herds can grow to a few hundred individuals for these social members of the deer family, but older bulls remain in smaller groups or by themselves until mating season.
Calving usually happens late May into June. Newborn elk have spots that fade away by summer. Cows are extremely protective of their calves, so use caution around mother elk.
As fall begins, the elk gather to mate in the Kawuneeche Valley on the western side of the park. The bull elk compete for the right to breed with a herd of females.
The competition typically involves displaying their antlers, necks and bodies and the famous bugling. An eerie sound that starts as a deep tone that rises to a high-pitch squeal, the bugle serves to intimidate rival males.
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