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Moose

Scientific name: Alces alces

Painting of a Moose by Jean Gawalt
Art by Jean Gawalt

New York Status: Protected

Description

The moose is the largest member of the deer family (Cervidae), and the largest land mammal in New York State. Bulls weigh from 600 to 1,200 pounds and stand up to 6 feet tall at the shoulder. Cows weigh from 500 to 800 pounds. Both sexes have long, grayish-white legs, dark brown or black bodies, and a dangling flap of skin under the throat called a bell. A mature bull's bell is much larger than those of cows and younger bulls. Cows have light brown faces and a white patch of skin under their tails, while bulls have dark faces and no white patch. Only bulls grow antlers, beginning in March or April. The antlers, which regrow annually, may reach a width of more than 5 feet on mature bulls and are shed from November through January.

Life History

The breeding season, or rut, occurs in late September and early October. During this time, bulls compete for cows by sparring with each other, with older, larger bulls usually doing most of the breeding. A single bull may breed with five or six cows during the rut. Bulls do not eat much during the rut and lose considerable weight. After the rut, they feed heavily to prepare for the upcoming winter. Cows can breed at 1½ years old, but most don't breed until they are 2½ years old. Young cows normally have one calf, while mature cows may have twins or, rarely, triplets. The gestation period is about 230 days, so calves are born in late May or early June. Calves are 20-25 pounds at birth but will weigh 300 to 400 pounds by fall. Calves stay with cows for the first year of their lives until the cows have calves again the following year.

Distribution, Habitat and Food Habits

Moose are a circumpolar species, occurring in boreal forest areas of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, they are found from Alaska eastward to the Atlantic Ocean, and south into the Rocky Mountains, northern Great Lakes, and the Northeast. In New York, most moose are located in the northeastern part of the state in the Adirondack Mountains and the Taconic Highlands along the Massachusetts and Vermont borders.

Moose are primarily browsers, feeding on the leaves, twigs, and buds of hardwood and softwood trees and shrubs. An adult moose eats 40 to 60 pounds of browse every day. Favored plant species include willows, birches, maples, balsam fir, viburnums, aspen, and mountain ash. In the winter, moose may strip and eat the bark from small trees, usually maples and aspen. In the summer, moose feed heavily on aquatic plants in ponds and wetlands, wading into the water and reaching beneath the surface for plants. They also depend on these wet areas to escape from biting insects and hot weather.

Ideal moose habitat consists of a mosaic of upland mature mixed forest, open areas created by burns or logging, and wetlands. The regrowth of browse species after a fire or clearcut offers nutritious food in large quantities needed by moose. Small clearcuts with some softwood cover retained are better than large clearcuts of more than 100 acres.

Mortality Factors

Predators: The black bear is a significant predator of moose calves less than nine weeks old. Coyotes may also take an occasional calf. There are no predators of adult moose in New York State, but, elsewhere in North America, wolves are their main predator.

Parasites: Moose are susceptible to a parasite known as brainworm that infects the nervous system and usually causes death. Other parasites such as liver flukes and lungworm can weaken a moose and make it susceptible to secondary infections. In other states with a higher moose density, winter ticks have become the main mortality factor for moose, but these ticks have not yet been documented in New York. The winter tick spends three life cycles on an individual animal, feeding on its blood during each cycle.

Vehicle Collisions: Vehicle collisions are a significant mortality factor for moose, especially where road densities are high. Moose are so tall that an automobile usually passes under the body, causing the moose to come over the hood into the windshield and onto the roof. Moose are most active from dusk to dawn, when their coloration makes them difficult to see in the roadway and their eyes are usually above the reach of car headlights. About one to two percent of moose/car collisions result in a human fatality. DEC is working with the Department of Transportation to develop warning methods for motorists in moose country. Research in other states has shown that vehicle speed is the most common factor leading to moose collisions, so the best way to avoid hitting a moose is to slow down, especially from dusk to dawn.

Status and Management

Moose entered the state on a continuous basis in the 1980s, having been absent since the 1860s. DEC collected reports of sightings between 1980 and 1999 as an informal way of monitoring the species' progress.

In the early 1990s, DEC drafted an Environmental Impact Statement and conducted a series of public meetings on moose. As a result, DEC instituted a number of actions to follow until the moose population, or our understanding of it, changed substantially. DEC (1) supported the return of moose in the northern 14 counties of the state; (2) rejected a proposal to accelerate the natural return of moose through a translocation program; (3) recognized the need to monitor the species' progress, both to ensure its success and to meet public demand for information about moose; and (4) recognized the need to address nuisance situations.

DEC biologists estimated that there were about 500 to 800 moose in New York State as of 2010. However, a standard procedure for estimating numbers of moose has not yet been established.

Moose management in the state consists of monitoring population size and distribution and occasionally relocating an animal that becomes a nuisance or catching and moving a moose from developed areas where it is a danger to itself, to people or both. Future DEC actions include implementing studies to refine our knowledge of the factors affecting moose distribution and numbers in New York State, estimating key population characteristics (e.g., size and rates of population change), assessing potential impacts of climate change on moose populations, balancing moose population attributes with biological and social carrying capacity, and developing a moose management plan that takes these factors into account. For more information on moose management and to view DEC's "Moose Response Manual", visit the "Moose Management" page.

Moose-related Legislation

Effective July 6, 1999, the New York State Legislature amended section 11-0915 of the ECL concerning the disposition of moose carcasses resulting from vehicle collisions. It allows people who accidentally kill moose with a motor vehicle that has been damaged in the process to obtain a permit from a law enforcement officer to keep the carcass. Should the motorist decline the opportunity, the officer may issue a permit to another party.


More about Moose:

  • Moose Management - Balancing the needs and benefits of moose with public safety and protection of property is the goal of a new guidance document prepared by DEC staff.
  • NY Moose Photo Gallery - This page shows pictures of moose in New York.
  • Submit Your Photos of NY Moose - This page describes how to submit and view images of moose in New York.