I have an extensive collection of moose photos taken in all seasons, and from many regions throughout Alaska. I’ve gathered a few images here to illustrate some of the natural history information. More pictures can be found through the associated links or by utilizing a keyword search in the box above. The moose photos here are available to license as commercial stock photography or purchase as fine art prints for your home or office.
Moose (Alces alces)
The towering, unique and gangly looking moose are one of Alaska’s favorite animals. They roam much of the state, inhabiting the boreal forest and taiga regions throughout Alaska. While their long and slender legs that suspend a huge body may appear clumsy, they move with surprising agility across tundra wetlands and spruce forests.
Moose are the largest member of the deer family, and mature bulls can reach weights of 1200-1600 pounds. Cows on average weigh between 800-1300 pounds. They are light-to-dark brown in color depending on the age and season. The odd looking “beard like” shape under the chin is called a “bell” or dewlap.
Cow moose and calves
Cow moose generally breed at 2-1/2 years of age and typically give birth to twin calves from mid- May to early June after a gestation period of about 230 days. The hair of newborn calves is generally red-brown to a rust color. They are considered adorable! Newly born calves weigh between 28 to 35 pounds and grow quickly. In the first weeks following birth, they stay extremely close their mother and cows can be aggressive and sometimes ferocious in protecting her young. Calves stay with the cow for about a year.
Moose are preyed upon by wolves, black bears, and brown bears. While much of the predation occurs on very young moose calves, brown bears can prey on calves and adults throughout the summer and autumn season. Wolves kill moose throughout the entire year by hunting them strategically as a pack, surrounding the moose and working cooperatively. Some of the most dramatic moose photos I’ve taken was when I watched a pack of five wolves surround a cow moose and calf in a small tundra pond in early June in Denali National Park. In approximately 20 minutes, in spite of the ferocious attempts by the cow to fend off the wolves, they eventually killed the calf. Experiences like this are not easy to come by, and witnessing that natural history moment, as difficult as it was to watch, is not likely to be repeated by me. Predation limits the growth of many moose populations in Alaska. Deep crusted snow and other weather events can contribute to food restriction and result in malnutrition and subsequent death.
Moose breed in late September and early October. During this period called the “rut” adult male bulls become protective of a collection of females and will challenge approaching bulls. They posture and joust by bringing their antlers together and pushing. While serious battles are rare, sometimes the challenges result in puncture wounds and occasionally death. The winner gets the mating rights to all the females. During one excursion when photographing moose in Denali National Park, I watched a challenge between two bulls developed into a full-blown fight. There were loud cracks of antler crashing and one bull nearly lifted the other off the ground and knocked it over. The visible force, power, and sound were astounding. In the process, one of the bull moose broke a tine off his antlers!
Bull moose grow new antlers each year during the spring and summer (females do not have antlers). They fall off after the rut during the winter months. It takes a lot of resources to grow this giant, bony headgear, which is covered with velvet nourished by a rich vascular network. The impressive racks can way up to 40 pounds. Once fully grown in August, moose shed the velvet by rubbing the antlers against bushes and trees. At this time, the antlers serve their primary purpose for the bulls as they compete for mating rights using their antlers as a weapon. Below is a large, bull moose photo that reveals the biggest set of antlers I’ve ever seen on a moose.
During fall and winter, moose consume large quantities of willow, birch, and aspen twigs. Spring is the time of grazing as well as browsing. Moose eat a variety of foods, particularly sedges, equisetum (horsetail), pondweeds, and grasses. During summer, moose feed on vegetation in shallow ponds and browse on the leaves of birch, willow, and aspen.
Moose and roads
Moose, roadways, and vehicles are not a good combination. Every year 700-800 hundred moose are killed by cars on Alaska’s road system. Unlike other members of the deer family, the eyes of a moose do not shine in the headlights which make them difficult to see in Alaska’s dark winter months. The Alaska Railroad system, which provides an area free of deep snow on the railroad tracks can attract moose seeking easier travel. This results in numerous deaths to moose every year.
Moose are generally docile animals, but like all wild animals, an appropriate and respectful distance should be maintained when photographing them. Many of the moose along the road corridor system of the state are accustomed to vehicle traffic, so as long as you stay inside your vehicle, you can get quite close and capture some great pictures. Beware of cows with young calves, because they can be very protective of their young. Do not approach closely. In Denali National Park, the moose show little fear of human presence since there has been no hunting pressure for a long period of time. With appropriate telephoto lenses, one can be very successful in capturing moose photos.