The Deer Family
Alberta’s mule deer and white-tailed deer are similar in size and appearance. Their color varies with the season but is generally light brown in summer, turning dirty gray in winter. Both species are considerably smaller than elk. The mule deer has a white rump, a white tail with a dark tip, and large mulelike ears. It inhabits open forests bordering prairie. The white-tailed deer’s tail is dark on top, but when the animal runs, it holds its tail erect, revealing an all-white underside. Whitetails frequent thickets along the rivers and lakes of the foothills and aspen parkland.
The elk, or wapiti, is common throughout the Rockies and foothills. It has a tan body with a dark brown neck and legs, and a white rump. This second-largest member of the deer family weighs 250–450 kilograms (550–1,480 pounds) and stands 1.5 meters (five feet) at the shoulder. Stags grow an impressive set of antlers, which they shed each spring. Rutting season takes place between August and October; listen for the shrill bugles of the stags serenading the females. During the rut, randy males will challenge anything with their antlers and can be dangerous. In spring, females protecting their young can be equally dangerous.
The giant of the deer family is the moose, an awkward-looking mammal that appears to have been designed by a cartoonist. It has the largest antlers of any animal in the world, stands up to 1.8 meters (six feet) at the shoulder, and weighs more than 450 kilograms (1,480 pounds). Its body is dark brown, and it has a prominent nose, long spindly legs, small eyes, big ears, and an odd flap of skin called a “bell” dangling beneath its chin. Apart from all that, it’s good-looking. Each spring the bull begins to grow palm-shaped antlers that are fully grown by August. Moose are solitary animals that prefer marshy areas and weedy lakes. They forage in and around ponds on willows, aspen, birch, grasses, and all aquatic vegetation. Although they may appear docile, moose will attack humans if they feel threatened.
Small populations of woodland caribou inhabit the alpine regions of the mountains and the boreal forests of northern Alberta. They are migratory but travel far shorter distances than the barren-ground caribou of the Arctic. There are approximately 5,000 caribou within the province; diminishing habitat and declining numbers have led to their placement on Alberta’s Threatened Wildlife List. These caribou are smaller than elk and have a dark brown coat with creamy patches on the neck and rump. Both sexes grow antlers, but those of the females are shorter and have fewer points. On average, males weigh 180 kilograms (400 pounds), females 115 kilograms (250 pounds).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition