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The elk is also known as the wapiti, a Shawnee word meaning white deer. When they first saw elk, the early settlers thought the animals were moose, so they called them elk which is a British word for moose.

Both bull and cow elk have a distinctive light-colored rump patch. Bulls can stand as tall as five feet at the shoulders.

Elk tracks are longer and more robust than those of deer. Scat is similar to deer scat, but much larger. It can be inch long. Elk also leave distinctive wallows where they dig into the ground with their hooves and antlers and wallow in the dirt.

During rutting season, elk will tear apart shrubs and saplings with their antlers. They also rub their antlers on small trees to remove the velvet. The antlers branch off from a main beam that can be up to five feet long.

An adult bull can weigh over 1000 pounds. They feed on plants, leaves, bark, grasses, grains, and also eat lichen. In winter, they eat buds, bark, and twigs.

Despite their large size, bulls can run 35 miles per hour. Both bulls and cows are good swimmers.

Elk are active at dusk and dawn and are frequently seen feeding in prairies during the day. Elk can also be nocturnal. They inhabit woods and pastures.

The rutting season occurs from August until November. During this time, the bulls join the cows in a herd. They are the most polygamous member of the deer family in America. A bull can collect a harem of up to 60 cows.

In the fall, rutting bulls bugle or whistle as a challenge to other bulls. The whistle can carry for long distances.

Cows will leave the herd for about a week to bear their calves. They can have one or two calves, which weigh up to 40 pounds each. Calves can walk almost immediately after birth. Mountain lions and bears prey on the calves.

At one time, "elk's teeth," the two upper canine teeth, were valued as watch fob charms. An elk will mark territory by stripping the bark from saplings and rubbing the tree with its chin.

Click here to see drawings of elk tracks.

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Revised: 30 August 1997
Written by Kim A. Cabrera
Copyright © 1997 Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association