When we drive through Algonquin Provincial Park or take the time to hike one of the many trails through the forest there, we never know what marvelous birds or animals may cross our paths. Many times, it is only the superb scenery that is to be enjoyed, and the peace and solitude of the Park’s backwoods. Other times, wildlife, such as this Cow Moose and Calf, will come right out to the highway corridor where it is far easier to browse than among the tangle of fallen trees in the dense forest.
Such was the case on our last visit to the Park in late November. After having sighted and photographed a pair of Red Foxes, and subsequently documented three Wild Turkeys, Bob and I commented to one another that we now will likely see some other pair of animals since things usually happen in threes.
No sooner were the words out of our mouths but what we crested a low rise in the road and saw this pair of Moose grazing in the ditch. Bob hastily pulled the car off onto the shoulder of the highway but made sure to keep a safe distance from this mother and her offspring. With the noise of another vehicle speeding by, the Calf became nervous and retreated to the safety of its mother’s side.
The Moose Calf, judging by its size, is probably about six or seven months old, this reckoning done by my dad who has spent the past 60 plus years in the area of Algonquin Park and has seen his fair share of moose calves over that time. In most cases, a young moose will stay with its mother until the cow’s next young are born, which would be the spring following the calf’s birth. However, if a cow fails to become pregnant, a young bull calf will remain with its mother into its second year of life, whereas a female calf may keep its mother company for several years.
When road traffic became nonexistent for a lengthy period of time, the calf braved a walk from its mother’s side to some tempting evergreens growing nearer to the side of the highway.
Moose are herbivores, and their name is reflective of that. The word “Moose” is derived from a similar Native American word, an Algonquian word that means “twig eater”. It is hard to imagine that an animal could digest such woody fare, but Moose have a well-adapted digestive system similar to that of cattle. Both species are ruminants.
With increased interest by bystanders, the calf cast a glance back at its mother seeking reassurance that all was well. A Moose calf varies in size at birth depending on whether or not it is one of a set of twins or born singly. Twins usually weigh around 6 kilograms (13 lbs); a single calf weighs between 11-16 kilograms (24-35 lbs) at birth. The cow’s milk provides most of a calf’s nourishment for its first two months of life. Moose calves grow quickly on the rich milk, gaining over a half kilogram per day during the first month.
After only about 14 days, a Moose calf will begin experimenting on other foods so that, by late July, its diet will consist largely of vegetation. By then, a calf is gaining more than 2 kilograms (4.5 lbs) every day. It is not until late fall that a calf will be fully weaned, which is probably the case with this calf that we photographed in late November. It probably weighed about 300 pounds when we observed it, or about 10 times its birth weight. Out of all North American animals, a Moose calf gains weight the fastest.
When the Moose calf made for the bush, the Cow moved further away from us seeing her offspring to the relative protection of the thick forest.
Much to our delight, she then meandered into a thicket of young saplings and continued to chow down on those tender twigs. Moving our automobile a little further along the shoulder of the road, we found ourselves that much closer to the cow as she feasted.
Moose prefer to browse on taller grasses and shrubs because they find it difficult to lower their heads to ground level. Because they have no upper front teeth, a Moose uses its prehensile upper lip for grasping branches. The sensitive upper lip can distinguish between tender shoots and harder twigs.
It was only a matter of moments before the cow moved on to the young evergreens growing up between the saplings. We were highly entertained watching the Moose take boughs in her mouth and then wrapping her strong upper lip around the supple branches.
By pulling them sideways through her mouth, all the needles were stripped off resulting in a good-sized mouthful. As we loitered by the side of the road, the Moose devoured several small evergreen trees in a very short length of time. It is easy to see how they can consume between 22.5-27 kilograms (50-60 lbs) of vegetation per day. It is a pretty efficient method of eating.
All that woody vegetation is ground up using six pairs of large, flat molars and six pairs of premolars, but usually only a few quick chomps qualifies as chewing, and then the forage is swallowed to make way for the next big mouthful.
That is where a Moose’s four-chambered stomach comes into play. In the first chamber, the tree leaves, needles or twigs are fermented. After a period of eating, a Moose will find a place to rest and then regurgitate the fermented food, which is chewed as cud in order to further break it down. Once swallowed again, the final three chambers of the stomach fully extract the nutrients from the woody vegetation.
After observing the cow Moose for another 20 minutes or so, Bob and I decided to leave her to her business. The Moose manipulated its long, bulbous muzzle, smelling the air as we prepared to climb back into our vehicle. I could see the calf lurking in the shadows of the forest waiting to rejoin its mother.
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