Recognizing Moose Habitat

cow moose

After months of preparation we are on our way to Alaska to look at tracks. Moose habitat and behavior were high on our species list. We just spent 39 hours straight driving through Canada and are close to the Alaskan border The last three hours were filled with a dirt road containing potholes the size of minivans and a late night broadcasting of the World Invitational Moose Calling Championship. We finally stop to rest, only to be woken three hours later by a passing motorist. I crawl out of the tent completely exhausted and when I could finally focus I was greeted with a bull moose in the middle of the lake. He was magnificent, and he was eating something under the water…


front right moose track

Description:

Their great size, long legs, short neck and palmate antlers distinguish the Moose from other cervids. Long legs allow adult moose to handle snow depths of 36 inches. Muscular shoulders make the moose appear humped and they have a characteristic "bell" of skin known as the dewlap which hands from their neck. Moose are sexual dimorphic, bulls weigh between 850-1200 pounds and the smaller female (cow) weighs around 600-800 lbs. The Moose has a total height of 8-10 feet.

moose browsing on willow

Moose Habitat:

Moose are typically associated with boreal forests throughout Northern Asia, Northern Europe and North America. Boreal forests consist of pines, spruces and larch trees. Moose habitat also includes open tundra where conifers such as dwarf birch, alder and willows grow surrounded by lakes, bogs and streams. Moose prefer regions where the average annual temperature is not above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

moose feeding sign

Diet:

The word 'moose' comes from an Algonquin Indian language and means 'twig-eater'. Moose are browsers rather than grazers. Because they lack upper incisors the browse is raggedly torn. Moose feeds on leaves, twigs, buds, and bark of willow, balsam, aspen, dogwood, birch, cherry, maple and viburnum and aquatic plants such as lilies, rushes, arrowheads, aquatic sedges. They will wade, swim and even dive to depths of up to 15’ to reach these aquatic plants.

Tracks: My first trailing experience in moose habitat happened this spring in North Central Washington, we were cursing old logging roads looking for fresh bear sign when we came across a female moose in the road. She took off down this embankment into the forest and we spent the next 8 hours trying to catch up to her…

moose front foot

Front: 4 3/8 – 7 inches in length x 3 3/4 – 6 inches in width

  • 4 toes, two of which are dew claws, raised up on the backside of the leg
  • Dew claws on front feet splay out to the sides
  • Hooves are heart shaped
  • Front track are larger than rear track
moose hind foot

Hind: 4 1/8 – 6 ½ inches in length x 3 ½ -4 5/8 inches in width

  • 4 toes, two of which are dew claws, raised up on the backside of the leg
  • Dew claws point in direction of travel and are farther back in the tracks than front dewclaws
  • Hooves are heart shaped
moose trail

Trail:

The trailing was going slowly, I have to climb up and over downed logs and branches and she just walks right over them like they are twigs on the forest floor, will I ever catch up to her?

Walk Stride: 28-44 in Trail Width 8 ½ -20 in

Trot Stride: up to 55 in Straddle Trot Stride 52-72 inches.

moose scat

Sign:

Scat: After being pelted by moose scat all day Vita says, “This is addicting! I can’t believe I didn’t figure this out sooner!” Moose scat has the perfect size, shape and content to be the perfect throwing object.

Concentrations of scat are also good indicators of well-used moose habitat.

Pellets ½-7/8 inches diameter 7/8-1 3/4 inches in length.

Patties are often a result of feeding on wetland vegetation.

Wallows: Cleared depressions in the ground 4’ wide, 4’ long, 3-4” deep: dig during the fall, in which the bull moose urinate and roll. Cows also roll in wallows.

moose incisor markings

Incisor markings: Male and female Moose scrape tree bark for territory marking and to eat the nutritious cambium layer. These marks are commonly found on smooth barked trees in moose habitat.

moose antler

Antlers size indicated the health of a bull moose. They begin to grow in early summer and become full size by the rut in autumn. Sign associated with antlers is tree rubbings and thrashing of shrubs. Recent study indicates that tree rubbing is more for scent marking than for dislodging velvet. It is a way for the moose to advertise his size and let his location be known.

skull of young bull moose

Further Resources:

The following books and website are good resources for more information on recognizing moose habitat via their tracks and sign.

Elbroch 2003. Elbroch & Rinehart 2011. Moskowitz 2010. Whitaker 1997.

http://www.aquatic.uoguelph.ca/

For more training in wildlife tracking skills, check out our in depth study program: Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship.


Article by Michelle M. Peziol. Photos by Alexandra Vita and Michelle M. Peziol.


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