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Moose All Around Us

Moose Browsing (c) Timothy C. Mayo
Photograph courtesy of Timothy C. Mayo

January for stewardship staff means a lot less time in the field than in the height of our monitoring season – working on important office-based projects like monitoring interpretations and reports, baselines that inventory the ecological features of new conservation easements, and management plans. From my office window, though, I can see early morning frosts and winter weather patterns and muse: It would be nice if a moose walked by.

January means several things to moose as well. This week, I’ve heard reports of lots of moose sightings, all around the County, right in the thick of where people live. I would venture to guess that this is a result of some combination of winter conditions (temperature, snow depth) and competition with other moose, because the moment these conditions shift to be more favorable to moose, we see less of them in our backyards. To brave people, dogs, and cars is simply more energetically costly than a quieter place up on the hillsides or in with a bunch of other moose in the creek corridors – although once past these stresses, they seem content to snack on ornamental shrubs and trees that can be a delectable treat compared with the willows and native shrubs they typically eat.

To be kind to moose this time of year, it helps to know what they are trying to do: eat to survive. If you’re lucky to have a visitor in your backyard, you may notice that they are usually up and eating in the mid-morning and again in the late afternoon. This is because the willows and shrubs that they eat “stoke the furnace” of their ruminant stomachs, helping them to stay warm in harsh winter conditions. They fill up in the late afternoon to get through the night, bedding down and curling up around their furnaces, then fill up again in the morning when the fuel’s gone. Their ability to do this without being interrupted impacts their survival and reproduction for the year ahead, so it’s best to foresake the close-up photos, give them a wide berth and work around them as best you can – getting up and moving around costs them fuel and warmth.

January also means that wildlife observers will have to be astute to pick out the difference between male and female moose. Moose start dropping their antlers in early January (mule deer begin to do this in early February; elk shed theirs in March and April), so to tell the difference, look for two clues: bulls with dropped antlers may have peduncles or attachment points still visible on their heads, and cows will have fringed, white fur around their tails. (The same method works to tell the gender of calves.)

A moose sighting is a wonderful thing, but please remember that moose are naturally protective of their space this time of year, especially when winter conditions limit their ability to move elsewhere, so be careful. Giving them space and respect helps these incredible animals to have a healthy and successful year ahead.

-Tom Segerstrom

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