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Elk Creature Feature


Habitat: Food, water, shelter and space are essential to elk survival.  Elk live in a variety of habitats, from rainforests to alpine meadows and dry desert valleys to hardwood forests.   In cold snowy climates, cows, calves and young bulls migrate to foothills and valleys in winter.   An experienced elk, usually the lead cow, guides a herd between seasonal ranges.

Range:  Prior to European settlement, more than 10 million elk roamed nearly all of the United States and parts of Canada.  Today, about one million elk live in the western United States, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and from Ontario west in Canada.

Behavior:  Social Organization:  Cows, calves and yearlings live in loose herds or groups.   Bulls live in bachelor groups or alone.   During the rut, cows and calves form harems with one or two mature bulls

Color:   Body varies from deep copper brown to light tan, rump patch light beige and legs and neck often darker than body.

Newborn calf 35 pounds (16 kg)
Cow 500 pounds (225 kg)
4 1/2 feet (1.3 m) at the shoulder
6 1/2 feet (2 m) from nose to tail
Bull 700 pounds (315 kg)
5 feet (1.5 m) at the shoulder
8 feet (2.4 m) from nose to tail

Calves: Typically born in late May through early June.   Calves are born spotted and scentless.   They spend their first few weeks hiding motionless while their mothers feed.

Diet:   Summer grasses and forbs.   Spring and fall grasses. Winter grasses, shrubs, tree bark and twigs.   Elk may supplement their diet at licks, where they take in minerals that may help them grow healthy coats and produce nutritious milk.  An elk's stomach has four chambers: the first stores food and the other three digest it

Antlers:   Only male elk have antlers.   Bulls shed and grow a new set of antlers every year.   New antlers are covered in fuzzy skin called velvet.   Antlers harden by late summer and the velvet peels away.   By September, antlers are solid bone.  A set of antlers on a mature bull can weigh up to 40 pounds.


Winter:   Elk grow winter coats consisting of long, waterproof guard hairs covering dense, woolly under fur.   During the day, elk feed on open, sunny slopes.   Elk bed down in the trees at night to seek shelter from wind and cold temperatures

Summer:   An elk's summer coat consists of short, stiff, relatively sparse hairs.  Elk bed down in cool, shady forests during the day.   Elk wade or lie in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes to seek relief from heat and biting insects.   Blood pumping through the veins in the velvet on a bull's antlers cools before it returns to the heart to help cool the animal










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