Wildlife highlight: The moose rut

Wildlife highlight: The moose rut

The most exciting – and dangerous – time to see moose

For most of the year, moose lead uneventful lives, and typically avoid other moose during winter, spring and summer.  

But during autumn, moose become social and their lives change dramatically as the season for mating— also known as rutting—unfolds. Behaviors emerge that have been dormant for the past year as moose engage in rituals related solely to reproduction. Their uneventful lives quickly become hectic as bulls compete for breeding rights and cows seek out mating overtures from bulls. 

The rut begins in late August after cow moose have spent the summer feeding, gaining weight, raising calves, and growing a new coat. At first, things progress slowly. Bulls with newly unsheathed antlers may lightly spar, but there is no attempt to injure each other. By mid-September, bulls start to compete for breeding rights to the groups of cows that have started congregating. They do this by fighting.  

Unlike sparring, fighting is violent and bulls frequently suffer injuries ranging from minor to fatal. Of all the different rutting behaviors, fighting is the most exciting as bulls engage in epic battles that may last for hours. During fights, the sound of clashing antlers can be heard up to a mile away. After a fight, evidence may remain in the form of torn up shrubs and tufts of hair or pieces of broken antlers. Fights are won by bulls that are larger, stronger, more agile and more experienced than their opponents.  

The rut peaks in mid-September and lasts until early October. By the end of the first week in October, the rut abruptly ends and moose return to their lives of eating and resting as they prepare for winter. Cows will carry their calves until the following May when births occur. All rutting behaviors cease until the following autumn. 

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