Elk have dark brown fur on their legs, neck, and head. They
have yellowish-tan color markings on their rumps.
Male elk, known as bulls, average around 700 pounds. They
stand 5 feet tall at their shoulders. The mature bull has
rounded antlers that can spread out to be more than 5 feet
wide. They can have more than 12 points on their antlers.
Antlers grow during the summer and are shed during the winter.
The skin on the outside of the antler is known as velvet.
Bulls shed their velvet in the fall and winter, then, lose
their antlers. The antlers grow back each year.
Female elk, known as cows, are smaller. They average around
600 pounds and stand 4 to 5 feet high at their shoulders.
Like deer, elk
do not build a home or nest. They graze in open meadows
near forests in northwestern Pennsylvania. Bulls
graze on grass over a larger territory than cows. Mothers
do not wander as much because they need to protect their
in late summer and early fall. Most elk start to breed
at 3 years
of age. Bulls “fight” for
a herd of cows. Few injuries are caused by bulls interlocking
their antlers. A bull’s herd ranges in size from 12
to 60 cows in September.
Female elk usually
have only 1 calf at a time. It takes 250 days, or over
8 months, for a calf to develop. When ready,
females look for quiet, private places to give birth.
Calves are born in May and June and weigh around 30 pounds.
For 6 months, they have light brown fur with white spots.
Calves hide in tall grasses getting up only to nurse. To
protect the calf, the mother elk stays away from her calf,
approaching only to feed it.
Elk live between 18 to 22 years. Besides humans, black bears
and coyotes are natural enemies of elk. These animals prey
upon the weak elk and young calves.
Elk eat mainly at sunrise and sunset. Elk browse and graze
on grasses in the summer. During other seasons, elk food
consists of berries, twigs, needles from pine trees, and
leaves and bark from hardwood trees and shrubs. Surprisingly,
one of their favorite winter food is acorns. Being plant
eaters, elk are herbivores.