Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: It's the nature of NH's largest beast

By STACEY COLE December 01. 2017 10:52PM
The moose is by nature an individualist who prefers the solitude of the forest. (Union Leader file photo)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, June 3, 1995.

I've heard it said that a camel was put together by a committee. If so, the moose could well have been its second project. I hope lovers of moose will not take umbrage at the aforementioned remark but, truth to tell, a moose is an ungainly creature to say the least. Because its front legs are somewhat longer than its hind ones, its gait is rendered extremely awkward. However, its length enables it to stride with great skill over fallen trees that prove annoying obstacles to its pursuers.

The subject of moose was brought up by a reader who wrote: “I am a recent resident of Milan. I seem to be in a prime area for moose watching. My problem is, I know nothing about these majestic animals. Could you please devote a part of your column to these animals?”

We are happy to oblige.

The moose is a browsing animal, its legs being too long and its neck too short to allow it to graze with any comfort. In the early spring, moose like the tender blades of young, green marsh grass and will often journey along on their knees to get at them. In winter, they have been observed performing the same feat to get a mouthful of snow. Thomas Morton (1637) called attention to this point when he concluded his description of the moose as follows: “ ... 18 handfulls highe (about six feet) ... he has a bunch of haire under his jawes; he is not swifte, but strong and large in body and long legged; in so much that he doeth use to kneele when he feedeth on grasse.”

In summer, moose feed extensively on pond lilies and other plants in marshy areas. They appear to thoroughly enjoy wading in shallow water.

In the forest, moose feed on twigs, leaves and bark of such tree species as willows, alders and aspens. They also enjoy moss and lichens.

My good friend, Hilbert “Bandy” Siegler, in his “New Hampshire Nature Notes,” published in 1962 by Equity Publishing Corporation, Orford, wrote: “New Hampshire’s largest mammal is the moose, with large specimens known to weigh as much as 1,400 pounds.

“The moose is by nature an individualist who prefers the solitudes of northern coniferous forests. There was a time, several hundred years ago, when he was more common in northern New Hampshire than our white-tailed deer. Early New Hampshire histories frequently allude to the many moose. One Nahan Caswell was credited with killing 91 in one winter. As the white man moved in and increased, the moose gradually decreased and moved out.

“The rutting season generally occurs between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, at which time the bull may do considerable roaming. An interesting habit of mating moose is their tendency to make wallows in which they roll to cover themselves with mud. The gestation period is normally between 240 and 246 days. Moose usually give birth to a single calf, occasionally twins, and rarely to triplets.

“The calves are born the latter part of May or early June. They are dark reddish-brown at birth with a dark stripe down their back and weigh between 15 and 25 pounds. The newborn calf is very tame and can easily be caught. After several days old, however, it can outrun a man.

“Even the newly born calf has the “bell” of dewlap (a growth on the throat) which is characteristic of moose. At about one year of age, he has his first set of spikes, which are sometimes forked. Two-year-old bulls generally have branched antlers and in succeeding years, these begin to show palmation or flattening, reaching their maximum growth after the sixth year. The antlers usually reach full development in August and September when the velvet is rubbed off. Two-year-olds shed their antlers in April, and each year thereafter the antlers are shed a little easier until the moose reaches the prime of its life, when shedding occurs in December. Maximum age is probably about 20 years. The hearing and sense of smell of moose are highly efficient, while their sight is such that an optometrist would prescribe glasses. They are powerful swimmers, and will dive after food completely below the water’s surface. They eat from 40 to 60 pounds of food daily.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite story written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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