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North Park Moose Viewing Season is Back in Walden, CO

Moose Viewing Season is Coming to Walden and North Park

The moose are coming back to Walden, Colorado! North Park is known throughout the world as the Moose Viewing Capitol of Colorado. It has been estimated there are hundreds of moose living in our high desert mountain valley. Although moose are typically seen in the mountains, especially in Gould and Rand, April and May can deliver some up close and personal experiences with these woodland giants.

A Little Bit About Moose

Moose are the largest members of the deer family. Although we are sometimes asked at what age do deer grow up and become moose, the two are separate species sharing a common ancestor. North American moose are part of what remains of ice age megafauna, where animals typically grew to large sizes in order to survive the extreme climates and even more extreme predators such as cave lions, short-faced bears, and many other predators which are now extinct.

Oftentimes, people driving through North Park might mistake a moose in a field for a horse. They are roughly the same size, although moose can grow to be larger. They generally plod through willow stands and wetlands, and their long, powerful legs allow them to walk in deep mud, and water. Moose are also very adept swimmers and often dive to the bottom of shallow lakes and ponds to eat greens they find on the bottom. 

In the Pacific Northwest, moose have been known to swim across channels to reach islands and it had been surmised that moose may have been predated upon by killer whales. Luckily for moose, these apex predators are often food specific in their social structures, and stick with one particular kind of food on their menu, such as seals, tuna, and sharks. Moose might not have made it onto the menu just yet.

Moose are Back in a Big Way

North Park wasn’t always the moose viewing capitol of Colorado. For many years, moose joined the roster of animals such as the North American bison, grey wolves, and grizzly bears that had been hunted to extinction in the area. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, moose were gradually reintroduced to North Park, starting with just a handful of breeding pairs. 

Through conservation and a habitat that is perfect for their needs, the population has bloomed to what it is today. Moose hunting tags are allowed each fall to big game hunters, which helps maintain herd levels and manage moose population.  Moose meat is considered a delicacy and one harvested animal can provide an incredible amount of meat when compared to its diminutive cousins of the deer family.

Why are Moose So Cranky?

Moose versus human confrontations outnumber grizzly bear, wolf attacks, and mountain lion attacks. By a significant margin. Moose usually come in second to white-tailed deer when it comes to animal attacks involving people. Moose are extremely protective of their young and during the rut, bull moose become very aggressive. Moose attacks usually don’t turn out very well for any humans or pets involved, since these animals can reach sizes of up to 1500 pounds in weight. 

When feeling threatened, moose can become aggressive, which is often indicated by the hair rising on their neck and backs. Their ears might swivel forward and their posture will become more aggressive. Moose can run as fast as a horse and often fight off predators by trampling, biting, and the bulls use their antlers to gore opponents.

Moose Antlers are a Big Headache

Each year, bull moose begin to grow a new set of antlers, also known as paddles. These appendages are not horn, as you would see on a cow or even pronghorn antelope, but are quickly growing antlers the males use during the rut to fight other males for territory and dominance. They are also used in dredging up sedges and wetland grasses to feed on.

Moose antlers are among the fastest growing animal organs on earth, with a full rack of paddles weighing several pounds growing in only a few months. To put it into perspective, bamboo grass is one of the few living materials on earth that grow bigger and faster than moose antlers.

The antler is covered in a fuzzy sheath called velvet and the calcium rich structure is porous and filled with channels for blood vessels to allow it to grow. Scientists believe the process might increase irritability due to the pain and pressure involved, which could contribute to the aggression and irritability of males.

Interestingly enough, one of the primary sources of food for moose is the red willow, which grows throughout North Park. The bark of willow contains the same chemical originally used in the production of aspirin and might work as a pain-killer for the moose. 

Where to See Moose in North Park

When spring comes to North Park, the red willows begin to grow in the creeks, ditches, and river banks of our wetlands. Not only are the dense thickets of willow stands excellent protection against predators, but the new green shoots are perfect for browsing and feeding, providing protein and nutrients to these large mammals.

At lower altitudes in North Park, such as the basin where Walden was established, the willows start growing and blooming sooner than other places in North Park, which contributes to this unique window of opportunity to see moose in Walden itself.

Along with willows, moose also crop on the buds and new growth of aspen trees, Kentucky bluegrass lawns, and even potted plants people begin to put outside in mid to late spring. It’s not uncommon for residents of Walden to open their front door and find a thousand pound moose lounging in their yard.

As food becomes more plentiful, the moose begin to move on, following the rivers into the higher country. For about six weeks, Walden is truly the moose capitol of Colorado. You can see them in alleyways, crossing Main Street, and in people’s yards. Moose are often seen at Hanson Park, sitting in the clover and nipping the new branches of lilac bushes. Some years have accounted for around 20 different moose hanging out in Walden at once during their spring migration.

Moose cows will sometimes use someone’s fenced yard as a place to give birth. The newborn moose calves are often up and walking within minutes. It is critical, and impossible to stress this enough: DO NOT APPROACH MOOSE CALVES.

Fun Fact! Moose often give birth to twins, which is part of the reason moose populations have been so prolific since their reintroduction.

Warning! Moose Crossing!

If you see a moose, it is important to give it plenty of space. Do not approach moose. Never attempt to touch or pet a moose. They will trample you. These are massive mammals that have been surviving wolf and bear attacks in the wild for millions of years. They don’t know what Instagram is and they don’t care about getting a good selfie. The best way to prevent yourself from finishing your visit to North Park without being in an intensive care unit—or worse—is to keep a safe distance from moose.  Stay inside your vehicle. Walk clear of them, and do not act in a way that could be mistaken as aggressive to the moose.

They are beautiful, wild animals and deserve respect as well as space. While hiking, it is better to make noise as you hike so you don’t accidentally surprise wild animals. Bells attached to clothing work well to warn moose, as well as bears, of your proximity. Also speaking with your hiking buddies keeps wild animals aware of your presence. Always use the buddy system when hiking and make sure someone knows where you are and when to expect you to return home in case of trouble.

Usually moose will leave you alone if you don’t bother them. If they become spooked, they understand they are large enough they don’t have to run and have the option to charge if they feel threatened. If you are fishing, hiking, or camping they won’t seek you out, but they need to be given plenty of space to make their exit. Don’t allow pets to chase or be aggressive towards moose.  Remember, a moose sees very little difference between a barking dog and a snarling wolf and will react accordingly.

Watch for Moose on the Roads

Moose are also one of the main culprits of serious accidents involving vehicular animal strikes. Due to their large size and dark coloring, moose are difficult to see at night while crossing highways. Vehicles that hit moose are usually a total loss, often resulting in injuries or fatalities to the people inside. Since they are usually the biggest thing around, they don’t think much about looking both ways before crossing a highway. Sometimes moose will panic and run directly into an oncoming vehicle. Spooked moose might slip and fall on asphalt too, resulting in broken limbs, which can result in a slow and painful death.

When driving through North Park, always be on the lookout for moose on or near roads. Signal to oncoming traffic with a brief flash of your headlights to let them know large animals might be crossing the road ahead.  

Times Moose are Most Active

In Walden, moose are active through the night and day! They often walk through Walden during the night, but generally choose a place to browse and bed down in the early hours of the day. They seek out shady spots or places down by the rivers surrounding town by mid-day, or find a nice shady spot in someone’s lawn to wait out the harsh sunshine.

From the morning to the middle of the day is when moose are usually spotted in Hanson park, but a brief drive through town might reveal moose chomping on someone’s bushes in an alleyway or even lounging in their yard. You can often tell when moose have been in the area due to the significant number of droppings they leave behind.

When the new shoots of trees and bushes begin to harden off and the days become hotter, moose move up into higher elevations. It’s pretty commonplace to see moose in Gould and the Moose Visitor Center and other areas within the Colorado State Forest State Park. Throughout the summer months, bull moose antlers grow to impressive sizes and by the time of the rut in late summer and fall, the velvet falls off their antlers and the males begin to compete for cows during breeding season.

Moose for Days, All Summer Long

If you want to see moose in North Park, the beginning of mud season through to the end of fall provides many opportunities to see these majestic animals. Winter snows often push moose to more agreeable climates, but also limit our access to see those that remain in North Park. Walden, CO is a great place to see moose if a drive into the mountains isn’t on your road trip itinerary

As you drive through North Park, keep your eyes open for tall, dark animals grazing among the willows along ditch lines and river bottoms. What you might have taken as a horse might just have a six foot crown of antlers.

Just remember to use caution and avoid finding yourself on a TikTok compilation of people who got too close to nature and lost. Seeing a moose for the first time is an amazing experience. Followed by the second or four-hundredth time of seeing a moose. For many North Parkers, the arrival of the moose means that spring is on its way and summer will soon follow. And for others, it might mean replanting those flowers they had in pots overnight.


 

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