Recognizing Moose Habitat
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…
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.
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.
word 'moose' comes from an Algonquin Indian language and means 'twig-eater'.
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.
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…
Front Tracks: 4 3/8 – 7 inches in length x 3 3/4 – 6 inches in width
Hind Tracks: 4 1/8 – 6 ½ inches in length x 3 ½ -4 5/8 inches in width
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wildlife Tracking Courses at Alderleaf
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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.