Most of the mammals that populate our wilderness, including the moose, are not known to produce much in the way of sounds. Like the white-tailed deer, the moose is viewed as silently moving through our woodlands, except for the snapping of twigs and the rustling of leaves that it steps on, and brushes against as it meanders about the forest. However, in the early autumn, the moose becomes more vocal, as it occasionally utters distinct sounds in its attempt to communicate with other moose that may be in the general area.
Around the same time that our first frost occurs, moose start to respond to increasing levels of reproductive hormones in their body. The desire to mate becomes more of a driving force in this massive mammal’s life. Because the population density of moose is never high, even in areas in which this creature is considered to be common, moose have evolved strategies to help them locate breeding partners in the vastness of a wilderness forest.
The moose’s well developed sense of smell helps greatly in allowing two individuals to eventually encounter each other. As it walks, a moose leaves behind a scent trail that alerts other moose to its presence and reproductive status. Should a wandering bull come close to, or intersect, the trail of a cow that is nearing its heat period, he will immediately follow her trail in an attempt to overcome and then convince her to accept him as a breeding partner.
A cow moose also advertises her presence by occasionally producing a low-pitched moan. This nasal sounding groan lasts for about 10 seconds and often ends with a sound that seems more associated with the rapid expulsion of air from the creature’s lungs.
This moaning cry of a cow can be heard up to a quarter mile, depending on the density of the surrounding forest and underbrush. A dense spruce-fir woodland is not as favorable for the transmission of sound as the air over an open marsh, along the shoreline of a lake, or along a river corridor. In more open settings, the bellowing plea of a cow that is searching for a mate can be heard by a person for well over half a mile.
The acute sense of hearing of a moose allows this giant to pick up sounds that are too faint for a person to hear. Researchers believe that the moaning call of a cow moose can be detected by a mature bull up to distances of two miles. Most of this enhanced hearing ability is the result of a much higher density of nerve receptors in their inner ear. Some naturalists also believe that the shape of their unique palmated antlers also helps in the sound amplification process. While these massive antlers serve the bulls in several ways associated with their mating process, they also are able to reflect sound waves toward their ears.
Upon hearing the sound of a cow announcing her presence, a bull responds by making his way in the general direction from which the call is coming. While this long-legged creature is known to travel substantial distances in a relatively short time, it often takes hours before the bull can correctly home in on this audio beacon and track it down. Once the bull gets close to the area occupied by the cow, scent also is used to eventually bring him to his potential mate.
People that are able to imitate the sound of a cow moose advertising her presence must be patient in their hope of seeing a bull, as this call does not produce instant results. Additionally, a person trying to attract a bull moose must exercise the utmost caution, as a bull that has followed the call of a cow for a mile or more across difficult terrain is expecting to be rewarded with the presence of a female moose, and not a human with a camera.
While bull moose also become more noisy at this time of year, their vocalizations are not as useful to sportsmen and wildlife photographers as the moaning cry of a cow.
Various demonstrations of the cow’s mating call can be heard this coming Saturday at the Great Adirondack Moose Festival, which is to be held in Indian Lake. This wildlife karaoke competition that centers around the moose is the first such event to occur in New York State.
On Sunday afternoon, I, along with noted naturalists and author Ed Kanze, will be available to answer any questions that you may have regarding the Adirondacks. I look forward to seeing everyone at Indian Lake on Sunday afternoon and chatting with you in a face to face situation about nature here in the Adirondacks.