Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Adirondack Moose Sightings: Rare and Majestic

Most of New York’s moose are located in the Adirondack Mountains and the Taconic Highlands along the Massachusetts and Vermont borders although young males have been known to wander south of the Adirondacks to mate and establish territory.

It is estimated that approximately 400 moose reside here in the mountains. Currently there are six moose in New York that carry GPS collars, which allow biologists to track their movements and determine the number of calves that are born to adult females.

The moose is the largest and heaviest species in the deer family. Two of the most amazing attributes of a moose are its sheer size and its antlers.

Antlers

Most adult male moose have distinctive broad, palmate or open hand shaped antlers while other members of the deer family have antlers with a dendritic or twig like configuration.  Depending on the location and environment a moose resides in their antlers vary in shape and size.  Moose in the northerly locales display the palmate antler pattern while moose in the southerly locations typically possess a cervine dendritic pattern and are smaller sized. 

Male moose with antlers have a more acute hearing, especially the larger sized palmate antler, as they amplify sound at the moose’s ear.   The antlers of an adult bull moose (5 to 12 years old) have a normal maximum spread greater than 79 inches. Antler beam diameter, not the number of tines, indicates age.  By the age of 13, moose antlers decline in size and symmetry. After the mating season males drop their antlers to conserve energy for the winter. A new set of antlers will then regrow in the spring. Antlers take three to five months to fully develop, making them one of the fastest growing animal organs. The size and growth rate of antlers is determined by diet and age in this case symmetry reflects health.

Moose diet, habits

Moose diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. The moose an herbivore and is capable of consuming many types of plant or fruit. The average adult moose needs to consume approximately 9,770 calories per day to maintain its body weight. 

A typical moose, weighs in at about 794 pounds but have been recorded as high as 1,300 and can consume up to 71 pounds of food in a day. Moose lack upper front teeth, but have eight sharp incisors on the lower jaw. They also have a tough tongue, lips and gums, which aid in the eating of woody vegetation. Moose have six pairs of large, flat molars and, ahead of those, six pairs of premolars, to grind up their food.

A moose’s upper lip is very sensitive, to help distinguish between fresh shoots and harder twigs, and is prehensile, for grasping their food. In the summer, moose may use this prehensile lip for grabbing branches and pulling, stripping the entire branch of leaves in a single mouthful, or for pulling forbs, like dandelions, or aquatic plants up by the base, roots and all.  Moose prefer the new growths from deciduous trees with a high sugar content, such as white birch, trembling aspen and striped maple, among many others. To reach high branches, a moose may bend small saplings down, using its prehensile lip, mouth or body. For larger trees a moose may stand erect and walk upright on its hind legs, allowing it to reach branches up to 14 feet or higher above the ground.

Terrestrial vegetation is rather low in sodium, and moose generally need to consume a good quantity of aquatic plants.  The moose proboscis is distinctive among the living cervids due to its large size and features nares that can be sealed shut when the moose is browsing aquatic vegetation.  Aquatic plants provide the moose with its sodium requirements, and as much as half of their diet usually consists of these types of plants which include lilies and pondweed.  Moose are excellent swimmers and have been known to dive over 18 feet to reach plants on lake bottoms.  In winter, moose are often drawn to roadways to lick salt for their sodium intake.

Mating and reproduction

Moose are mostly active during dusk and dawn.  They are generally solitary and the strongest bonds are formed between mother and calf.  Rutting and mating occurs in September and October. During this time, mature bulls will cease feeding completely for a period of approximately two weeks and as part of typical mating behavior.  The males will seek and mate with several females in a season. During this time both sexes will call to each other. Males produce heavy grunting sounds that can be heard from up to 500 meters away, while females produce wail-like sounds. Dominate males with initiate a fight for access to females utilizing their large racks as weapons.

Female moose have an eight-month gestation period, usually bearing one calf, or twins if food is plentiful, with birth occurring in the months of May and June.  Newborn moose have fur with a fawn-like reddish hue in contrast to the variegated brown appearance of an adult. The young will stay with the mother until just before the next young are born, which is about 18 months. The lifespan of an average moose is about 15–25 years. 

Aggressive behavior

Generally slow-moving and sedentary, moose can become aggressive and move quickly if angered or startled. Moose can behave with aggression when provoked or frightened by humans attempting to interact in close range situations compounded with the presence of a dog, purposeful or not.  It is due to these close interactions, moose injure more people than any other wild mammals.  A moose that has been harassed may vent its anger on anyone in the vicinity, and they often do not make distinctions between their tormentors and innocent people walking in the vicinity. 

Moose are very limber animals with highly flexible joints and sharp, pointed hooves, and are capable of kicking with both front and back legs and unlike other large, hooved mammals, moose can kick in all directions including sideways. Therefore, there is no safe side from which to approach.

However, moose often give warning signs prior to attacking, displaying their aggression by means of body language. Maintained eye contact is usually the first sign of aggression, while laid-back ears or a lowered head is a definite sign of agitation. If the hairs on the back of the moose’s neck and shoulders stand up, a charge is usually imminent.  These creatures are best observed quietly from a distance, preferably under cover of a dwelling or from your vehicle.  

Car accidents

The most fatal interaction humans have with moose are vehicle collisions.  Studies done by the American Council on Science and Health show the center of mass of a moose is above the hood of most passenger cars. In a collision, impact studies show that it crushes the front roof beams and individuals in the front seats. Collisions of this type often end in a fatality, leaving seat belts and airbags irrelevant in providing safety.

In collisions with higher vehicles such as trucks, most of the deformation is to the front of the vehicle and the passenger compartment is largely spared. We can best prevent a collision by being aware of the times of year moose are most active and keep a diligent eye out while traveling through locations that moose are known to reside in. 

The pictures of the moose in this article were taken September 22, 2020 on Rte. 3 in Piercefield NY at 8:30 am as we were traveling west towards Wilmington NY.  It wasn’t hard to spot this massive animal as he emerged from to forest into the roadway and across to another portion of wooded area.  He was calm and appeared slightly thin.  This would not be abnormal as I stated above, fall is mating season for these creatures and their accelerated activity along with its lowered caloric intake most likely was the cause of this sighting. 

Moose are here in the Adirondacks, please take care to be cautious while walking in the wilderness this fall and be aware that these large creatures indeed cross roadways.  By being vigilant we can avoid negative interactions with these majestic creatures.   

Related Stories


Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.


Tags:


21 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you, Jackie, for this informative posting. I have observed several moose, but never one who was agitated. I did not know that they could endanger placid people if someone or something else had made them cranky.

    The details you provide are fascinating on all counts.

    Best wishes,

    Phil

    • Boreas says:

      Phil,

      Large mammals evolve with large predators – many now extinct or extirpated. The large mammals that remain still have an aggressive side. Large predators willing to take on moose are few and far between now, but moose still have the instincts of fight or flight honed to a knife’s edge. Deer have become accustomed to humans, but this big deer doesn’t much care for us. Be extremely cautious when in their presence!

      • Phil Fitzpatrick says:

        Thank you 🙏

      • AG says:

        Yes just like the people who are ignorant of buffalo and think they are “friendly” in Yellowstone. No.. They are not. But yeah – unless there are wolves around – no other animal on the continent is going to challenge a large moose. Grizzly bears and cougars will attack medium sized ones though.

    • AG says:

      Yes it is true moose injure more people in North America than other mammals. In a similar fashion – people go on safari and think Hippos are cute and “fun” to watch… Hippos kill more people than any other large animal in Africa.

  2. Barbara McCabe says:

    Thank you so much, Jackie, for this information on these wonderful, beautiful creatures… I enjoyed it very much! I loved the photographs as well.
    In my many trips to the Adirondacks, I have never had the good fortune of actually seeing one…though I am always on the look-out!

    Thank you again,
    Barb

  3. Kim Pope says:

    Fabulous article !

  4. Tyler Searle says:

    Overall a good, informative article except for 79” spread part. That would be very uncommon, even in Alaska.

  5. Ed Burke says:

    Here’s two fine bull moose in the Sacandaga region I got on my trail cam recently, same camera, same trail, different moose. Had a third bull on a different camera. The rut has started and probably continues later at this latitude, compared to Quebec or Alaska where winter sets in earlier. For example a hunter was bluff-charged by a bull last December 5 in this region when he got near a cow and a bull as he tracked a whitetail. The amazing trail cam photo a few years ago of two bulls fighting in North Hudson as a cow sat in a pit was captured in November I believe.
    https://twitter.com/EdBurkeToga/status/1306341381858832389?s=20

  6. Dan Ling says:

    Yes, a spread of 79” is no doubt unusual. But the author gives that as a maximum, and notes that younger and older moose will have smaller antlers. So the information is accurate. But individuals will vary a lot. According to a 1981 Harper and Rows Field Complete Guide to NA Wildlife, the “record spread” is 77 5/8”. And my 1980 Audubon Field Guide to NA Mammals Western Edition says the record at that time was 82 inches. My takeaway is there is great variety due to location, age, health, etc. and such large specimens are rarely encountered as you say.

  7. Carol Kogut says:

    Great article. Awesome pictures

  8. Susan Harris says:

    In the United States I would like to see feet and miles and not meters. The Europeans can keep their socialism and their metric system thank you very much.

  9. Chris Andrus says:

    Beautiful moose picture, very informative article!

  10. Kathleen says:

    Really am excited about seeing a moose some day. We’ve been looking for years.

  11. Tammy says:

    On my
    Bucket list is to go on a moose hunt, or moose tour . Is there any thing like this in the area . I would just love to see a real life moose up close.

    • Boreas says:

      Not that I know of. Moose aren’t very cooperative with schedules and stuff. Best bet is to drive slowly around moose habitat and keep your eyes open.

  12. Joan Kappel says:

    What an informative article! Thank you.

    When my daughter lived near Wilmington, about 15 years ago, we were asleep in the loft of their home, with windows open. Suddenly heard a combination of sounds that I presumed was teenagers in the woods tuning a boom box. Quite a concert it was, but I learned it was an amorous moose pair, with a kind of call and response going on.

    The incredible sounds echoing in the forest were my most exciting contact with nature, and I didn’t even see them!

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.