Elk put on a show at Rocky Mountain National Park

October 5, 2011 at 9:03 pm (Colorado, National Parks, Photography, Wildlife) (, , , )

Bull elk guards harem in tundra country - above 12,000 feet elevation

Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its craggy vistas, but this time of year, the elk steal the show from even the golden aspens.  Autumn is the season where testosterone rules.  Bulls who have amassed a harem are continually challenged by younger males who want a piece of the action. Females and their calves just go along with whomever manages to snag them, though they often try to sneak back to the herd if they were snatched from it by a cunning interloper. This age-old drama played out nicely today in the tawny fields of Moraine Park, with the story repeating itself over and over.

Bugling elk

Protecting a harem appears to be a 24/7 job.  The cows and calves graze contentedly while the verbal challenges and physical jousting by the males play out nearby.  Throaty bugles, often ending in a squeal, sound across the fields.  The urge to dominate and procreate gives no rest to the testosterone-crazed bulls.

Cow elk "dancing" - not sure why they do this

Cow and calf join the herd

When a younger bull finally decides to walk the talk and engage the ruling male in a joust, heads lower and antlers clash.  After some pushing and shoving, one – usually the challenger – backs off and is chased away.  He will gather his pride, throw out vocal threats, and when his courage returns, he will prance out to do it all over again.

The challenger, Mr. Handsome

Today there were three challengers.  The handsome one looked as if he could have taken the Old Guy down, but perhaps it was a psychological war as well.  The Old Guy had half an antler missing, and a bloody hole in one ear.  It didn’t stop him from fending off all three challengers.  When he was locking horns with Mr. Handsome, one of the others lingering in the background rushed in to steal the herd.  Of course, he was promptly chased away after the duel was over.

Squaring off with a younger opponent

A lot of bluffs and fake charges across the stream

Mr. Handsome had a cow and her calf as his starter harem, probably stolen from the Old Guy.  At one point, he had two additional.  Then after another battle, he lost his meagre treasure.

Getting back the prodigals

Time to put the threats to the test

In the ring: Old Guy and Mr. Handsome

The reigning champ chases away the challenger

Head 'em up, move 'em out!

Campers enjoy breakfast entertainment
These battles went on even in the Moraine Park campground, as breakfast entertainment for the visitors.

An appreciative audience

Needless to say, whenever elk were visible, a long line of cars pulled over.  The commentary by the tourists could be entertaining as well. 

“I’ll be baaack…”

For high-resolution images, see Rocky Mountain Elk in Rut

Home website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

All material copyright Cindy McIntyre 2011

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2 Comments

  1. ken wilson said,

    Sooooo impressive~ nature at its best! Miss you; we were in Maine this weekend and thought of you… :o) Love your postings and commentary~ thank you for your eye & persective on life and wilderness creatures…

  2. ron payne said,

    Really glad I subscribed! Wonderful wildlife shots!

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