The stork brought us elk calves!
The elk cows started dropping their calves over the Memorial Day weekend around the District. These cute little bundles of joy are yet another sign of spring but also a sign that caution needs to be taken when using open areas around town.
Elk calves are typically born in late May and early June. Some of the most common nurseries are along the Big Thompson River at the Lake Estes 9-Hole Golf Course, the Matthews-Reeser Bird Sanctuary, Wapiti Meadows, and Cherokee Draw day-use area. Some elk will also give birth at the Estes Park 18-Hole Golf Course.
Although the elk mothers may seem docile, they have a fierce instinct to protect their offspring. If they feel their babies are in harm’s way, they may become very protective, a response that may appear aggressive.
Many of these nurseries are along the popular Lake Estes Trail so caution needs to be taken when using this route. Here are some tips for safe calf viewing:
- Watch and photograph from a distance. No photo is worth your safety or the safety of the elk calf. If the elk cow changes her behavior, such as pinning back her ears or looking up from feeding, you are too close.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Elk cows will tuck their babies away to rest and for safety from predators while they eat. The calves may be in thick willows, a small bush or tucked along the side of a river. You will rarely see them tucked away in their “bed” so be on the lookout for changes in behavior of nearby cows watching over their young from a distance. (Can you find the two calves in the photo to the right?) You may also hear a high-pitched “mew” sound as you walk along the trail. This is a calf calling out to its mother, most likely because it is hungry. A cow will know the sound of its baby and respond by returning to her calf. Stay out of this mother’s way so she can reunite with her little one.
- Observe posted signs. There are numerous signs posted along the Lake Estes Trail warning about elk mothers in the area. These signs are not meant to scare you but make you aware of your surroundings. In the case of an overly protective elk in the area, the trail may be closed.
- Keep pets secured on a leash. Elk consider dogs a threat; they look more like a wolf than your cuddly buddy to an elk. Pets are supposed to be on a six-foot leash at all times along the Lake Estes Trail. During calving season, it may be best to find an alternate route to walk your canine workout partner.
- Back away. If you do encounter an overly assertive elk cow, back away. Do not turn your back to the cow because you will not know if she is charging you.
- Making a call. If you encounter a protective female elk that may be a danger to people, move away and call the Estes Park Police Department Dispatch Center at 970-586-4000. They will notify the proper authorities to respond to the situation.
- Enjoy elk calving season. Estes Park offers a plethora of wildlife viewing opportunities. Viewing animals safely and responsibly will make a better experience for everyone involved – humans and elk.