If you happen to see more than one moose, please, whatever you do, don’t refer to them as “mooses” because they really hate that. Come on, people. The plural of moose is (wait for it…) moose. How these supersized ungulates arrived at this preference no one quite knows. But given their considerable size, there’s no point in arguing with them about how plurals are formed. Mature male moose (got it now?) can be 6 or 7 feet tall at the shoulder. That’s considerably taller than most of us, and they may weigh 1,300 pounds or more. A moose feeling threatened might bluff charge you or kick you with their hind legs—definitely more engagement than you want with these animals. Still, it’s worth remembering that though moose are large they are not predators. Good thing, right? But what do moose eat to get so big? We’ll get to that and some other fun stuff, including tips on what to do in case of a moose attack, or—better yet—how to avoid a moose attack.
What Do Moose Eat?
Moose are not solely chowhounds. They do like to run, chase, play, splash, and dive in the water. To be honest, though, they spend up to 97% of their day shifting back and forth between eating and resting. They move from one feeding area to another and rest in five or more different “beds” along the way as they stop to chew their cud. Between periods of rest and activity you can see them stretching, yawning, and scratching, just as humans do. So, what do moose eat? If they’re in or near water, they eat a variety of aquatic plants, such as bur-reed, horsetails, and cattails. In the West, they go for riparian willow stands. In wintertime they shift to eating twigs and bark of aspen, birch, alder, willow, maples, and balsam fir. At times, up to 75% of their winter diet may be from conifers (like the balsam fir), because conifers block snow from reaching the ground, making it easier for them to move around. Moose get lots of sodium in their summer diet, but at other times they’re drawn to saltlicks and to road treatment salt to fill this dietary need. Sadly, the latter often leads to moose getting struck by vehicles.
Moose can lose up to 20% of their weight during the fall and winter when leafy foods are off the menu. Their wintertime feeding can also be limited when snow of 23 or more inches hinders their movement. They spend late spring and summer trying to build up their fat again for the next fall and winter, sometimes traveling up to six miles to find the richest feeding areas. Moose calves are born in May or June, weighing in at about 35 pounds. They’ll bulk up to 260-330 pounds by fall, gaining 2-4 pounds a day—first, by drinking their mama’s rich milk, and then, by following her around and eating all they can of whatever she’s eating.
Predators of Moose
Moose may be the tallest mammals wandering around North America, but they do have their foes. In addition to human hunters and vehicle collisions, moose must be wary of wolves, coyotes, black bears, brown bears, mountain lions, and (occasionally) dogs. With size, power, and long legs going for them, moose have been clocked at 38 mph, even when moving through areas with obstacles. So they do often escape predators, but not always. Normally, calves and older, weaker animals are the victims, except when humans are the threat. Hunters typically seek large bull moose because they’re fixated on wanting moose antlers to hang on a wall (despite the scientifically established fact that antlers look infinitely better on the animal who grows them than on a wall… but that’s a whole separate subject). In case you’re genuinely curious about moose antlers, though, they’re shed each year, and size and appearance indicate the overall health of the bull moose sporting them.
Avoiding a Moose Attack
Moose are fairly solitary, so it’s not typical to see multiple moose. But you may encounter a bull moose in the fall who’s courting a cow moose (whatever that’s all about) or a mama moose who’s watching over her one or two calves in summer. In those cases, definitely stay back, because moose are more likely to express their displeasure toward you at these times than when they’re alone. Another time you may see moose hanging out together is when they’ve discovered a lush and tasty food source. At those times, so long as you don’t try to dine with them, they’ll likely just go on peacefully chowing down.
It’s actually pretty easy to avoid ticking off these normally gentle, but occasionally feisty, animals. Here are some tips worth remembering when you’re in moose country and want to avoid a moose attack—or need to effectively deal with one that does occur:
- Don’t hike with your dog in areas where you’re likely to encounter moose. Remember, wolves and coyotes prey upon their young. Moose have no way to know that your dog is not a similar threat, so, naturally, they’ll respond aggressively.
- Don’t provoke a moose—no throwing rocks or sticks at them, no yelling at them. These things won’t frighten them off and may, instead, provoke a charge.
- Learn how to recognize when a moose perceives you as a threat. A moose may walk toward you, stomp his feet, flatten his ears back, grunt, or throw his head back and forth. These are definite warning signs.
- Back away from the moose with your palms facing him. Speak in a soft and reassuring voice, just as you would use to comfort a child.
- If the moose still charges, get behind a large rock or tree for protection. Fortunately, most moose charges are bluffs.
- If you come under a moose attack, curl up in a ball, protecting your head and neck with your arms. If you’re wearing a backpack it will protect your back. The moose should lose interest quickly. Remember, moose are not carnivores. In fact, they don’t even have upper teeth! Still, their size and strength make it only sensible to try to avoid a moose attack by following these commonsense tips.
And, hey, we don’t even want to get into what moose might do if you’ve slipped up within their earshot and referred to them as “mooses.” Offend their innate sense of how to form the plural of moose at your own peril. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!