Moose (Alces alces)
Moose are big. An adult moose, averaging 1,000 pounds and standing 6 feet at the shoulder, is the largest land mammal in New Hampshire. Moose have keen senses of smell and hearing, but they're also near-sighted. Their front legs are longer than their hind legs, allowing them to jump over fallen trees, slash, and other debris. Moose, like deer, lack a set of upper incisors; they strip off browse and bark rather than snipping it neatly. Bulls and cows have different coloration patterns. Bulls have a dark brown or black muzzle, while the cows face is light brown. Cows also have a white patch of fur just beneath their tail.
Only bulls grow antlers. Antler growth begins in March or April and is completed by August or September when the velvet is shed. Antlers are dropped starting in November; young bulls may retain their antlers into early spring. Yearlings develop a spike or fork; adults develop antlers that may weigh up to 40 pounds with wide sweeping palms with many long tines. The bell the flap of skin and long hair that hangs from the throat, is more pronounced in adult bulls than in cows or immature bulls.
Range and Distribution
Moose occur in Alaska, Canada, northern U.S. from Washington across to northern New England, and the northern Rockies south to Utah. Prior to European settlement moose were more common than deer in New Hampshire; their range extended from the Canadian border to the seacoast. During a year, moose home ranges vary from less than one square mile to more than 25, depending on the season. By the mid-1800s, fewer than 15 moose existed in New Hampshire. The small number and loss of habitat slowed the recovery of the moose population. The moose herd didn't begin to rebound noticeably until the early 1970s. By this time, abandoned farmlands and changes in forest practices created a mosaic of mature and young re-growing forests providing excellent moose habitat. When the first moose hunt occurred in New Hampshire in 1988, there were about 1,600 animals in the state. The moose population peaked in the late 1990s, with between 7,000 and 7,500 moose in New Hampshire. Since that time, the population has gone down to about 4,000 animals today. About half the decline was an intentional response to the public's desire for fewer moose-car collisions. The other half is due to threats such as winter tick in the north and brainworm in the south. A study begain in 2014 to try to learn more about the health of New Hampshire's moose (click here to learn more). Today moose occur in all ten counties, with the highest densities in the Great North Woods.
Habits and Habitats
The breeding season or rut extends from mid-September through mid-October. In the northeast moose don't form permanent pair bonds. The bull stays with the cow only long enough to breed, then he leaves in pursuit of another cow. Both bulls and cows travel more during this time in pursuit of a mate. Usually only mature bulls five years or older breed. Bulls defend a cow they're pursuing, driving off younger bulls and sparring with more evenly matched opponents or youngsters bold enough to test their strength. Bull moose don't feed during the rut and lose considerable weight. After the rut several bulls may be seen eating together fattening up for the upcoming winter.
Unlike bulls, cows breed at the age of 1 1/2 years. They give birth, at age two, usually to one calf. Twins are common after a cow reaches age four (triplets are rare but do occur in the state). Cows have been known to kill wolves, grizzlies, black bear, and people in defense of their calves. A yearling calf will stay with its mother until new calves are born. Calves are born in mid-May or early June weighing 20-25 pounds. They're reddish brown in color with no spots. By fall they weigh 300-400 pounds.
Moose may live 20 years, but average lifespan is 10-12 years. They die from various causes. Black bear are a significant predator on moose calves until calves are nine weeks old. By then calves can outmaneuver a bear. Coyotes may take an occasional calf. Moose are susceptible to a tiny parasite known as brainworm. White-tailed deer carry the parasite, although they're unaffected. The parasite passes from deer feces to a land snail to the moose which ingest the snail while feeding on browse. Moose usually die from this infection. Moose also die from severe infestations of winter ticks. Moose attempt to remove ticks by scratching, licking, and rubbing often removing their hair at the same time. This can lead to secondary infections and hypothermia. One moose can carry 10,000 to 120,000 ticks. Moose also die as a result of collisions with automobiles.
Brake for Moose
Each year nearly 250 moose are killed on New Hampshire highways. Their dark coloration blends well with dark pavement. To avoid collisions, drive no faster than 55 miles per hour at night and at dusk, so you can stop within the limits of your headlights' illumination.
Moose-vehicle accidents can occur anywhere in the state. To avoid collisions with moose, scan the sides of the roads, as well as the roadway itself; drive 55 mph or less; and, if you do see a moose, slow down and be ready to Brake for Moose if the animal decides to dart in front of you. Click here for more tips on how to avoid collisions with moose.
Food Habits and Habitats
Moose is an Algonquin term for "eater of twigs." Moose are primarily browsers feeding on leaves, twigs, and buds of hardwood and softwood trees and shrubs. A healthy moose will eat 40-60 pounds of browse daily. Moose favor willows, birches, aspens, maples, fir, and viburnums, in the fall they begin feeding on the bark of some hardwoods, particularly maples and aspens. In the winter moose feed on the buds and new woody growth of these plants.
Moose feed heavily on sodium-rich aquatic plants in summer. Cows also prefer to keep their calves near water as an escape route for their calves. Ponds are used by both sexes to escape from moose flies and other pesky insects and to keep cool. Moose licks form in wet areas on the sides of highways where road salt accumulates. Moose visit these areas to drink the salty water thereby satisfying their salt requirements. In the fall, bull moose create wallows by pawing out depressions then urinating in them. Bulls and cows will roll in the wallow during the breeding season.
Areas that provide large amounts of nutritious browse benefit moose. Forest fires induce significantly more nutritious re-growth than that produced by a chain saw. In the absence of fire, clear-cuts provide browse in abundance. Large clear cuts (more than 100 acres) don't benefit moose as much as smaller, dispersed cuts. Islands of uncut softwood and hardwood within large clear-cuts are utilized by moose in the winter. Moose use clear-cuts until the plants grow beyond their reach, in 10-30 years. They avoid dense re-growth that restricts their movement and visibility. Beaver flowages are used frequently by moose. Aspen or willow in a range of successional stages is valuable. A mosaic of upland mature mixed wood (primarily hardwoods with a softwood component), regenerating clear-cuts or burned areas, and wetlands offers good moose habitat.
Moose are fun to watch, but safe moose viewing is essential; watch from a safe and respectful distance. Moose are bigger and faster than any person and give little warning before attacking a perceived threat. Cows are extremely protective of their calves. Bulls in the rut are unpredictable. No one should ever approach these animals no matter how tolerant they appear. Moose are unafraid, not friendly. A moose that decides someone has crossed into their "personal space" will knock down the offender and kick and stomp until the threat stops moving.
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