Natural Sightings #659 - Bull Elk.jpg

A bull elk lounges in the shade of an oak tree.

Lisa Wise took this photo of a bull elk lounging in the shade of an oak tree while the rest of his herd was grazing. American Elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni), also known as Rocky Mountain Elk, typically form two different herd types during the spring and summer: cows and their calves will constitute one group, while bulls will often congregate together into all-male bachelor herds of four to 10 animals peacefully coexisting.

From autumn into early winter, these bulls will no longer be amiable companions but instead intense competitors, trying to defend harems of cows. Elk cows have a very short estrus cycle lasting only a day or two, so the bulls must keep the cows close at hand if they hope to have a chance at breeding success, and a defending bull will even forgo eating to keep competing bulls chased away from his harem. Unlike California Mule Deer does, elk cows very rarely twin and almost always produce a single calf.

The bull in this photo will probably be losing his antlers in the next month. Elk antler is one of the fastest growing types of bone tissue in the natural world, and a full-sized rack like this one can weigh up to 40 pounds.

Since elk are typically seen from a distance, most people tend to picture them as being about the size of the Mule Deer. When you see them up close, however, you realize how large they actually are, since they are nearly the size of a horse.

The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Southern Paiute) word for elk is parahui, pronounced pah-rah-HOO-ee, meaning "water deer."

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.

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