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Recognizing Moose Habitat

cow moose

Recognizing Moose Habitat

By Michelle Peziol

After months of preparation we are on our way to Alaska to look at tracks. Moose habitat and behavior were high on our list of species we hoped to encounter. 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 beside the road. He was magnificent, and he was eating something under the water…  

front right moose track


Their great size, long legs, short neck and palmate antlers distinguish 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 sexually dimorphic, bulls weigh between 850-1200 pounds and the smaller female (cow) weighs around 600-800 lbs. Moose have 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


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 feed on leaves, twigs, buds, and bark of willow, balsam, aspen, dogwood, birch, cherry, maple and viburnum and aquatic plants such as lilies, rushes, arrowheads, and aquatic sedges. They will wade, swim and even dive to depths of up to 15’ to reach these aquatic plants.

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

moose front foot

Front Tracks: 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 tracks
moose hind foot

Hind Tracks: 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 the direction of travel and are farther back in the tracks than front foot dewclaws
  • Hooves are heart shaped
moose 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 inches. Trail Width 8 ½ -20 inches.

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

moose scat


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 and 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: dug during the fall, in which the bull moose urinates and rolls. 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 indicates 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 studies indicate 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.

Related Courses:

Wildlife Tracking Courses at Alderleaf

By the way, when you're out tracking or looking for wild animals, it's important to know how to stay safe in the outdoors, especially if you were to get lost. Right now you can get a free copy of our mini survival guide here, where you'll discover six key strategies for outdoor emergencies, plus often-overlooked survival tips.

About the Author: Michelle Peziol is a Wildlife Track & Sign Evaluator with CyberTracker Conservation. She wrote articles while teaching at Alderleaf. Learn more about Michelle Peziol.

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