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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Elk Rutting Season in RMNP

Fall is Elk Rutting season and we learned a lot about elk and how they reproduce. This is the Beaver Meadows Ranger Station. The flag is half is September 11. All of the national parks have a junior ranger program. M earned this badge by going to ranger talks and completing studies in a book that included knowing the names of animals and plants he found and answering questions about the environment and the different life zones in the park. One of the ranger programs we attended was an extensive education about elk rutting procedures. I was surprised to learn that about 90% of the female elk in RMNP give birth every year. They are becoming over populated and are beginning a very controversial program to try to correct that problem. Ranger Sue is explaining how to tell how old a male elk is by his "rack" in the photo. M's rack is 2 years old. The elk shed their rack and grow new ones every year.Bugling is the sound of RMNP in the fall. The cows and calves begin to gather into herds with herd bulls at this time, with one or more other bulls hanging around the edges of the herd. The herd bulls bugle frequently during this phase as they try to drive off other bulls.The other bulls bugle in response as they challenge the herd bull for breeding rights and try to attract cows that are willing to leave the herd and join them. The cows are attracted to the big bulls with big racks and an attractive bugle.

The cows come into "Estrus" about every 3 weeks during rutting season. Here you can see the bull "sniffing" her because he can smell when she is in estrus and may be receptive to him.

These bulls are fighting for dominance in a herd. They often break antlers and even kill each other. At the end of rutting season the bulls are worn out, hungry and may be too weak to make it through the winter. They look for a place to rest and some high quality food. The bulls and the cows do not hang out together at any other time of the year. The cows have a "lead cow" for each herd. Gestation is about 9 months and the calves are born in the spring. The calf will stay with his mother and the rest of her herd until she is ready to mate again, then she will push him away.


Wendy said...

Very educational blog, mom.

Camezi said...

They appear to be indoors. Why is YOUR grandson wearing a snipers mask, may I ask?

Finding Joy in Him said...

Wow! Maybe M can grow up and be a park ranger.